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Md. marriage bill dead for year

Equality group remains optimistic; leaders call move a ‘strategic step’

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Delegate Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland died in the Maryland House of Delegates Friday after supporters determined they did not have the votes to pass it and sent it back to committee without taking a vote.

The decision to return the bill to the House Judiciary Committee, which approved it two weeks ago by a one-vote margin, came after an impassioned two-and-a-half hour debate in which six of the House’s seven openly gay members urged their colleagues to support marriage equality.

“It is best to delay this historic vote until we are absolutely sure we have the votes to win,” Equality Maryland, a statewide LGBT group, said in a statement. “While we are disappointed the House did not vote to pass marriage equality today, we are confident we will win in the future.”

House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel County) said in a news conference after the debate that the bill would be brought back in 2012.

Many LGBT activists watching from the visitor’s gallery did not know of plans to pull the bill if the 71 votes needed to pass it in the 141-member House could not be obtained. Some reacted with shrieks and gasps when the House approved by voice vote a motion to “recommit” the bill to committee, with nearly all of the bill’s supporters voting “aye.”

When asked how close the vote would have been, Busch told reporters that backers of the bill believed a vote would have been “very close” but decided the best course of action would be to give wavering delegates more time to mull over the issue.

“There was a chance we could have had 71,” he said. “There was an opportunity to have 70 or 69…But I think they didn’t feel comfortable that there was the full 71 vote.”

Busch was also asked why a close vote that might have resulted in the bill’s defeat this year was ruled out if everyone agreed to bring the legislation back for a vote next year.

“In my personal opinion, I think those who felt uncomfortable might have voted no and had a tough time coming back and voting yes,” he said.

According to Busch and others familiar with the House of Delegates, no more than about 10 delegates would likely be swayed to change their vote one way or the other. If a vote were held Friday and some voted no, they might be reluctant to vote for the bill next year out of fear of being accusing of being a “flip-flopper,” some of the bill’s supporters said.

Equality Maryland board member Daryl Carrington agreed with Busch’s rationale for avoiding a vote.

“We did not want to have a negative vote on the record,” said Carrington. “And we believe that it gives us the time we need. It was a strategic step to give us the additional time we need to get this done.”

Supporters lined up enough votes to defeat two amendments considered hostile to the bill, raising the possibility that backers of the bill might have enough support to pass the measure.

One of the amendments, introduced by Del. John Olszewski (D-Baltimore County), called for expanding a provision in the bill that allows religious institutions to refuse to provide goods and services and accommodations related to the “promotion of marriage” if doing so violates the institution’s religious beliefs.

The bill limits the exemptions to “religious programs, counseling, educational courses, summer camps, and retreats.” Oloszewski’s amendment would have expanded the exemption to include any program or activity operated by a religious institution, even if such products or services were offered to the general public.

The amendment was defeated by voice vote.

The second amendment, offered by Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore City), called for eliminating the bill’s marriage provisions entirely and turning it into a civil unions bill.  Her amendment also went down to defeat by a voice vote. When she asked for a roll call vote to verify the vote breakdown, Busch used his authority as speaker to refuse the roll call vote request.

Del. Emmett Burns (D-Baltimore County), an opponent of the bill, argued during the debate that the bill’s supporters were incorrectly comparing their quest for marriage equality and other LGBT rights initiatives with the black civil rights movement.

He said same-sex marriage had nothing to do with civil rights, adding that it would “validate and uphold the homosexual lifestyle,” which is contrary to his religious beliefs.

“I am a black man. I cannot change my color,” he said. “Those who are gay can disguise their propensity. They can disguise who they are.”

Del. Keiffer Mitchell (D-Baltimore City), a supporter of the marriage bill, took exception to Burns’ interpretation of the civil rights movement. Noting that he is the grandson of nationally acclaimed African-American civil rights activist Clarence Mitchell, Keiffer Mitchell said he was honored that the LGBT community and other minorities have modeled their own struggles for equality on the black civil rights movement.

Although the LGBT civil rights struggle is not the same as the black civil rights struggle, it is still falls under the category of civil rights.

“When we deny people equality under the law it is a civil rights issue,” he said.

Lesbian Delegates Heather Mizeur, Anne Kaiser, and Bonnie Cullison, each a Democrat from Montgomery County; lesbian Del. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City); and gay Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) each gave impassioned floor speeches about how legalizing same-sex marriage would impact them.

While not mentioning fellow delegates opposing the bill by name, each said they were troubled and, in some cases, hurt and offended by opponents’ claims that allowing them to marry would harm children, take away religious rights, and damage the institution of marriage.

Mizeur told of her own struggle as a devout Catholic with her sexual orientation as a teenager and young adult. She said she has long since reconciled her identity as a lesbian and devoted Christian, saying she believes deeply that God accepts her for who she is.

Noting she and her partner have been married for five years, Mizeur said, “What we’re asking for is equal protection under the law…You can still choose to believe we are immoral.”

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District of Columbia

D.C. ceremony welcomes affirming church as ‘full standing’ UCC congregation

Bishop Abrams officially installed as pastor of UCC Empowerment Liberation Cathedral

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Bishop Allyson Abrams (far right) was installed as pastor of UCC Empowerment Liberation Cathedral.

The Mt. Rainier, Md.-based Empowerment Liberation Cathedral, which Washington Blade readers have selected for five years as the D.C. area’s Best LGBTQ Church, was honored as an official United Church of Christ congregation in a ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 25, at the Plymouth United Church of Christ on North Capitol Street in D.C.

The ceremony, organized by the Potomac Association of the United Church of Christ, which admitted Empowerment Liberation Cathedral as a UCC congregation last fall, also officially installed lesbian Bishop Allyson Abrams as pastor of the now UCC-affiliated Empowerment Liberation Cathedral.

Abrams founded Empowerment Liberation Cathedral in 2014 at its original location in Silver Spring, Md., as a nondenominational Protestant church that she declared would be a welcoming and affirming congregation “where all of God’s children are welcomed,” including LGBTQ people of faith. Washington Blade readers have also named Abrams the D.C. area’s Best Clergy for seven years.

Although many consider Empowerment Liberation Cathedral a “gay” church, one of its spokespersons, Kendrick Keys, told the Washington Blade ELC considers itself a welcoming church and congregation open to everyone, even though he said a majority but not all of its members are LGBTQ.  

A biography of Abrams prepared by the LGBTQ Religion Archives Network says her founding of Empowerment Liberation Cathedral came one year after she resigned as pastor of the Zion Progress Baptist Church in Detroit in 2013 and two years after she was consecrated as a bishop at Pneuma Christian Fellowship, a religious order in Orange County, Calif.

The biography says Abrams created a stir in 2013 shortly before her resignation as pastor of Zion Progressive Baptist Church, when she announced to the congregation that she had just married another female bishop, Diana Williams, who at the time was Bishop Emeritus of the Imani Temple African American Catholic Congregation.

A short time after that, Abrams and Williams moved to the D.C.-Maryland area where Abrams mapped out plans to open the Empowerment Liberation Cathedral known as ELC.

 “Bishop Abrams came to the Washington, D.C. area with a new blitz about her marriage to another female bishop,” a statement released by ELC says. “She was outcast by many organizations and religious groups for declaring you could be gay and Christian,” the statement says.

“When Abrams decided to open a church in the Washington Metropolitan Area many media outlets discussed her keeping her faith and opening a church for those who have been marginalized and disenfranchised from the church and from their legacies in churches across America,” the statement continues.

“Bishop Abrams has remained on the forefront of ministry and has united with a denomination that believes in justice and equality for all – the United Church of Christ,” says the statement.

It was referring to the United Church of Christ’s status as an LGBTQ-affirming church that welcomes LGBTQ people into its services and congregations.

A separate ELC statement says among those attending and participating in the Feb. 25 ceremony at Plymouth Church were pastors, bishops, ministers, parishioners, community leaders, organizations affiliated with ELC and the United Church of Christ’s Potomac Association.

Among them was Japer Bowles, director of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, who delivered a statement from Bowser.

“As Mayor of Washington, D.C., I congratulate Empowerment Liberation Cathedral as you join the United Church of Christ (UCC) family and install Bishop Alyson Abrams as pastor,” the statement says. “As you gather to celebrate this momentous occasion, may both pastor and congregation be inspired to even higher heights of achievement and service to our communities,” the mayor’s statement says.

The Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride parade and festival, issued its own statement congratulating Empowerment Liberation Cathedral. The statement mentions that in 2016, Capital Pride honored Bishop Abrams as a Capital Pride Hero “in acknowledgement of her work in the faith community for the acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ+ Christians.”

ELC spokesperson Keys said the church holds its weekly Sunday services at the Mt. Rainier Arts Center at 3311 Rhode Island Ave., Mt. Rainier, Md.

He said a nonprofit community services organization created by ELC called Empowerment Justice Center, is located at 1015 15th Street, N.W., Room 653 in D.C. The church office is also at that location, Keys said. 

Further information about church services and events can be obtained by contacting ELC at 202-798-4371 or at empowermentliberationcathedral.org.

But Keys said the church’s location in Maryland had not been updated on the website, which lists its former location in Lanham, Md., rather than its current location in Mt. Rainier.

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Virginia

Va. lieutenant governor misgenders Danica Roem

Manassas Democrat is first trans person elected to state Senate

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Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears speaks at CPAC in 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears on Monday misgendered state Sen. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) on the Virginia Senate floor.

WVTF Richmond Bureau Chief Brad Kutner in an X post said Earle-Sears, who is a Republican, referred to Roem, who is a transgender woman, as “sir” during a debate on House Bill 964, which would allow attorneys to serve as the executive director of the Virginia Board of Medicine. 

Kutner said the Senate went “recess twice after reportedly ‘Sears refused to apologize.'”

“I’m not here to upset anyone, I’m here to do the job the people of Virginia have called me to do,” Earle-Sears later said, according to Kutner.

Roem in 2018 became the first trans person seated in a state legislature in the country when she assumed her seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Voters in the 30th Senate District last November elected her to the Senate. Roem is the first trans person seated in the chamber.

The Washington Blade on Monday reached out to Roem, but she declined comment.

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District of Columbia

GW transgender, nonbinary student group criticizes Utah governor’s on campus comments 

Spencer Cox decried ‘genital-mutilation surgeries’

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Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (Photo courtesy of Cox's office)

A George Washington University transgender and nonbinary student group has criticized Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s comments about gender-affirming health care that he made last week during an on-campus.

The GW Hatchet reported Cox on Feb. 21 described gender-affirming health care as “genital-mutilation surgeries” during a “Disagree Better” event the university’s School of Media and Public Affairs hosted. Jonah Goldberg, a conservative writer and commentator, and NPR “Morning Edition” host Michel Martin also participated in the event that Frank Sesno, a GWU School of Media and Public Affairs professor who was previously CNN’s Washington Bureau chief, moderated.

The Transgender and Nonbinary Students of GW in a post to its Instagram page said it is “hurt, ashamed and frustrated that such harmful language was allowed to be given a platform on our campus.”

“Fear mongering claims that young trans people are ‘mutilating our bodies’ are factually incorrect and damaging to our community,” said the group in its post that notes the event took place days after Nex Benedict, a nonbinary student in Oklahoma, died after a fight in their high school’s bathroom. “Gender-affirming care for minors saves lives, and is approved by reputable institutions, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Psychiatric Association.”

The GW Hatchet notes Cox told Sesno that he invited trans youth and their families to the Governor’s Mansion in Salt Lake City “to discuss state measures that pertain to transgender people, a conversation that he said led to legislative change.” 

Cox in 2022 vetoed a bill that banned trans students from playing on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. The Utah Legislature later overrode his veto.

The governor last year signed a bill that bans gender-affirming health care for minors in his state. Cox last month signed a bill that prevents trans and nonbinary people from using restrooms and locker rooms in public schools and government buildings that correspond to their gender identity.

The GW Hatchet reported Cox in response to a student’s question said “no one” in Utah has died by suicide because they were unable to access gender-affirming care.

“I care deeply about these kids. I love these kids. I want these kids to thrive. I want these kids to be successful,” Cox said, according to the GW Hatchet. “I think there’s a better way to do that than by having genital-mutilation surgeries before they’re 18 and old enough to have a rational decision, to actually make a decision for themselves. And so we can disagree with that.”

“As the only trans student org at GW, we refuse to let our community have their right to exist be put up for debate and threatened by disinformation,” said the Transgender and Nonbinary Students of GW in their statement. “We call on GW administration to consider ways in which they can repair the harm caused by Gov. Cox’s statements on campus, and make the safety of their trans students, faculty and staff a priority in a sociopolitical climate that is fixated on our eradication.”

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