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BREAKING NEWS: ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ vote fails

Stand-alone repeal bill may be next but time running out for Clinton-era policy

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Supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal endured a devastating loss on Thursday when the Senate failed to reach the 60-vote threshold necessary to proceed with legislation that would end the military’s gay ban.

Still, repeal advocates are pursuing an end to the military’s gay ban through new standalone legislation and other administrative means.

By a 57-40 vote, the Senate failed to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed on the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill, which contains a measure to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, called the vote a “major failure” of the Senate to “simply do its job and pass an annual defense authorization bill.”

“Politics prevailed over responsibility today, and now more than one million American service members, including tens of thousands of gay and lesbian troops, are worse off as a result,” Nicholson said.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), a leading advocate for repeal in the Senate, said during a later news conference that he’s “very disappointed” in the result of the vote as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) decision to hold the vote on Thursday.

Lieberman noted that all 42 members of the Republican caucus said they wouldn’t vote in favor of moving forward with other legislation until tax issues and continuing funding for the U.S. government are addressed.

“You can say that was wrong, but the reality is that that was the request, and, nonetheless, Sen. Reid went ahead and called this vote,” he said.

With exception of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who voted in favor of cloture, all Republican senators who were present cast a “no” vote on the motion to proceed. Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) didn’t vote.

Following the vote at a news conference, Collins blamed the failure of the bill on Reid and said she’s “extremely disappointed” about his decision to hold the vote on the defense authorization bill at this time.

“There is no reason why we could not have proceeded to consider that bill after completing action on the tax relief bill and using a process that would be fair to both sides,” Collins said.

Collins had been engaged in negotiations with Reid and Lieberman about finding a path forward to bring on needed Republican support for the defense authorization bill. The Maine senator accused Reid of having “walked away” from the negotiations by bringing the legislation to a vote.

“The majority leader decided to prematurely hold a cloture vote that he knew would not succeed,” Collins said. “I just don’t understand that decision. I don’t understand that given the importance of this bill and the policies in it.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who recently came out in favor of repeal, later told reporters she voted “no” because she felt the amendment process set up for the defense authorization bill was unfair.

She also recalled the letter that all 42 members of the Republican caucus signed saying that wanted to extend the Bush-era tax cuts and pass a continuing resolution to fund the U.S. government before taking on other issues.

“We’re going to that tax bill right now,” she said. “Why the majority leader could not have allowed for a timing that would help to facilitate greater support for this, allow for a reasonable amendment process — that is not too much to ask.”

Jim Manley, a Reid spokesperson, said the majority leader was offering 10 Republican amendments and 5 Democratic amendments as part of consideration of the legislation.

“We’ve bent over backwards to try and offer them a reasonable number of amendments,” Manley said. “Just because they say it, doesn’t mean it’s true.”

On the Democratic side, the sole vote against the motion to proceed was the newly seated Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.). He had earlier expressed concerns about chaplains leaving the military should “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” be repealed.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) didn’t vote on the motion to proceed. Lieberman later told reporters Lincoln wanted to vote in the affirmative, but was detained and unable to make the vote on time.

In the wake of the loss, Lieberman and Collins announced their intent on Thursday to introduce new standalone legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” with language that’s identical to the repeal provision in the defense authorization bill.

Unveiling his plans for the new legislation, Lieberman said he thinks the bill has a chance for success in lame duck because at least 60 senators have expressed support for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“We’re going to keep fighting until the last possible moment in this session because we got the votes to change this unjust policy and we owe it ourselves and to our country to continue to fight until fighting is no longer possible,” Lieberman said.

The Connecticut senator said he received assurances from Reid that he would use “Rule 14” to bypass the committee vote and bring the standalone legislation to the floor during the lame duck session of Congress. Further, Lieberman said Reid wanted to be a co-sponsor of the legislation.

As repeal advocates push forward with this new bill, the Human Rights Campaign has renewed its call for President Obama to prevent further discharges under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by issuing a stop-loss order — a power afforded to him during times of war.

Joe Solmonese, HRC’s president, had earlier endorsed the idea of Obama issuing such an order in an October letter to the president.

“The Senate’s apparent refusal to act on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal makes presidential action imperative in order for him to fulfill his state of the union promise,” Solmonese said. “The only measure of success is an end to the discharges and anything less is unacceptable.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

N.Y. AG joins multi-state brief in Colo. anti-trans discrimination case

Letitia James and 18 other attorneys general support plaintiff

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trans health care, gay news, Washington Blade
New York Attorney General Letitia James (Photo public domain)

New York Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday joined a brief by 18 other Democratic state attorneys general urging the Colorado Supreme Court to uphold a lower court ruling against Masterpiece Cakeshop for anti-trans discrimination.

A customer, Autumn Scardina, sued the business over claims that it refused to provide her a cake upon learning that it was for a celebration of her transition. The case is not the first in which owner Jack Smith has faced claims of anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

In 2012, Masterpiece Cakeshop refused to fulfill an order for a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, which led to the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission — and a narrow ruling that did not address core legal questions weighing the constitutionality of First Amendment claims vis-a-vis the government’s enforcement of LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination laws.

“Denying service to someone simply because of who they are is illegal discrimination, plain and simple,” James said in a press release. “Allowing this kind of behavior would undermine our nation’s fundamental values of freedom and equality and set a dangerous precedent.”

She added, “I am proud to stand with my fellow attorneys general against this blatant transphobic discrimination.”

The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Scardina, noting that Smith objected to fulfilling her cake order only after learning about her intended use for it “and that Phillips did not believe the cake itself expressed any inherent message.”

The fact pattern in both cases against Masterpiece Cakeshop resembles that of another case that originated in Colorado and was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court last year, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis.

This time, the justices did not sidestep the question of whether the state’s anti-discrimination law can be enforced against a business owner, Lorie Smith, a website designer who claimed religious protections for her refusal to provide services to a same-sex couple for their nuptials.

The court’s conservative supermajority ruled in favor of Smith, which was widely seen as a blow to LGBTQ rights.

Joining James in her brief are the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai’i, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and D.C.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Fla. man found guilty of threatening George Santos

Gay former NY congressman expelled in December

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Former U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

On Feb. 22, following a two-day trial, a federal jury in Ft. Lauderdale convicted a man for calling the office of former U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) in D.C. and threatening to kill the member of Congress and another person. 

On Jan. 29, 2023, Frank Stanzione, 53, of Boynton Beach, Fla., made a telephone call from his residence in Boynton Beach to the office of a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Stanzione left a voice message for the member that stated the following:

“[Victim 1 former Rep. Santos] you fat fucking piece of shit fucker. You better watch your mother fucking back because I’m gonna bash your mother fucking fucker head in with a bat until your brains are splattered across the fucking wall. You lying, disgusting, disgraceful, mother fucking fucker. You mother fucking piece of shit. You’re gonna get fucking murdered you goddamn lying piece of garbage. Watch your back you fat, ugly, piece of shit. You and [Victim 2 Redacted] are dead.”

The congressman’s chief of staff reported the message to the U.S. Capitol Police the next morning. The USCP began investigating the voice message as a threat and determined that it was made from a telephone number assigned to Stanzione. 

On Jan. 31, 2023, USCP special agents went to the address associated with the telephone number and interviewed Stanzione. USCP confirmed that Stanzione had left the voice message for the congressman. Stanzione found the telephone number on an online search engine. 

In a motion to dismiss, lawyers for Stanzione noted in the interview he told federal agents that “he feels offended by Santos and does not want him in his (gay) community.” He said he left the message to make Santos “feel like a piece of shit.”

The court filing described Stanzione as “a long-standing, active advocate for gay rights.”

In the motion to dismiss, Stanzione claimed his prosecution was “retaliatory and vindictive” and “based upon his exercise of political speech related to gay rights.”

“Others who have allegedly committed similar acts,” his attorneys stated in the motion, “have not been prosecuted.” 

U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida and USCP Chief J. Thomas Manger announced the guilty verdict. The USCP – Threat Assessment Section investigated the case. 

Stanzione will be sentenced in May and faces penalties including up to five years in federal prison, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.

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State Department

State Department criticizes passage of anti-LGBTQ bill in Ghanaian Parliament

‘Limiting the rights of one group in a society undermines the rights of all’

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(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The State Department on Wednesday criticized the passage of a bill in Ghana that would further criminalize LGBTQ people and make advocacy on their behalf illegal.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller in a statement said the U.S. “is deeply troubled by the Ghanaian Parliament’s passage of legislation, officially called the Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Bill, which would threaten all Ghanaians’ constitutionally protected freedoms of speech, press and assembly.” 

“The bill seeks to criminalize any person who simply identifies as LGBTQI+, as well as any friend, family, or member of the community who does not report them,” said Miller. “Limiting the rights of one group in a society undermines the rights of all. The United States echoes the call by those Ghanaians who have urged a review of the constitutionality of the bill to protect the rights of all individuals in Ghana.”

Miller noted the bill “would also undermine Ghana’s valuable public health, media and civic spaces and economy” and stressed “international business coalitions have already stated that such discrimination in Ghana would harm business and economic growth in the country.”

“Ghana’s tradition of tolerance, peace and respect for human rights is a source of stability and prosperity that has long served as a model for countries around the globe,” he added. “This legislation is inconsistent with these values and will, if it becomes law, undermine this laudable tradition.” 

Ghanaian MPs approved the bill on Wednesday, and it awaits President Nana Akufo-Addo’s signature.

“I am saddened because of some of the smartest, most creative, most decent people I know are LGBT,” said U.S. Ambassador to Ghana Virginia Palmer in a post on the embassy’s X account. “The bill Parliament passed takes away not only their basic human rights but those of all Ghanaians because it undermines their constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press.” 

“It will be bad for public order and public health,” she added. “If enacted, it will also hurt Ghana’s international reputation and Ghana’s economy.”

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