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Down to the wire in N.Y.

All eyes on GOP caucus in N.Y. marriage debate; tense negotiations over marriage bill in Albany

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Andrew Cuomo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo encountered delays this week trying to get a same-sex marriage bill passed in the state Senate. As of Blade press time Thursday morning, the bill hadn't been voted on. (Photo by Pat Arnow; courtesy of Wikimedia)

New York’s same-sex marriage bill was in limbo as of Blade press time Thursday morning, as the legislative session was extended and lengthy negotiations took place over which religious exemptions would be included in the final language.

The state’s top political leaders said they supported several religious exceptions that had been added on Wednesday. The Democratic-led Assembly has already approved the bill but will need to approve any revised version that may come out of the Senate.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said late Wednesday that negotiations over the exemptions were going well.

“We are going back and forth on language,” the AP quoted Cuomo as saying. “But we have not hit any obstacles.” Negotiations were expected to continue Thursday, many New York-based media outlets said.

Negotiators are trying to include enough protections in the bill so that religious groups can not be sued for discrimination if the bill passes.

Though the New York Assembly, the state legislature’s lower house, is controlled by Democrats, Republicans have a slight majority (32-30) in the Senate. The measure needs only one more vote to pass the Senate after being approved by the Assembly last week. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said this week that Senate Republicans had not discussed the marriage proposal because they were sidetracked by other issues like rent control laws and caps on property tax increases. Cuomo said this week he was “cautiously optimistic” the marriage bill will pass.

The religious protections weren’t available by Blade deadline but were expected to include protection for religious groups such as adoption agencies and marriage counselors who oppose gay marriage.

Among Democrats in the Senate, 29 of the 30 say they’ll vote for gay marriage meaning only three Republican votes would be needed for it to pass the 62-seat chamber. Two have said they’ll vote for it. Two others are undecided on the record, though some reports from New York say the needed Republican votes are there.

New Yorkers United for Marriage, a coalition group of LGBT groups including Empire State Pride Agenda, Freedom to Marry, Human Rights Campaign and others, said Wednesday in a statement, it is pleased with the way things are unfolding.

“We are pleased that thoughtful discussion on marriage equality are ongoing and that progress continues to be made,” the release said. “The voices of the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers who support marriage for all have clearly been heard and momentum is on our side. The people of the state of New York expect and deserve a vote on this important issue.”

Gay Manhattan resident Lou Weiss, who wed his partner Danny Martin in Canada in 2005, said Wednesday he’s optimistic.

“It’s moved away from the sinning and the man-and-woman argument to the argument of how can we protect the church from these evil gays,” Weiss said. “That’s a major shift. We’re not discussing where it’s going but a minute portion of it. These religious exemptions have been in the bill for years. It should be clear we’re talking about civil ceremonies. They want a promise they won’t get sued. Well anybody can sue anybody. Nobody can give them a guarantee of that.”

Weiss said he’s embarrassed his city, usually a leader on progressive issues, is lagging behind on marriage, especially since the Stonewall riots happened there.

“I have friends say, ‘Oh, we thought New York would be the first to get it,’ but instead we’ll be number seven. We’ve had great domestic partner benefits for years, but I’m disappointed that it’s taken this long and that we’ll be number seven and not in our usual first place. It’s easy to forget, it’s not all that liberal outside of Manhattan.”

Weiss predicts it will pass in either this session or next. If it does, he and Martin plan to reaffirm their vows.

Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa and D.C. allow gay marriage. Of them, all but Massachusetts and D.C. allow at least limited religious exemptions.

New York’s legislative session had been scheduled to end Monday.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. MACDONALDBANK

    June 23, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    Religion and the churches should now be exposed as a bigoted structure that gets away with hate mongering. It is a criminal offence to cause harm onto others physically or with written items; bibles have been getting away with this for ages.

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Federal Government

Veterans can now identify as transgender, nonbinary on their VA medical records

About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity

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Graphic via U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced Wednesday that his department added the options of transgender male, transgender female, nonbinary and other, when veterans select their gender, in medical records and healthcare documentation.

“All veterans, all people, have a basic right to be identified as they define themselves,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “This is essential for their general well-being and overall health. Knowing the gender identity of transgender and gender-diverse veterans helps us better serve them.”

The statement also noted that the change allows health-care providers to better understand and meet the medical needs of their patients. The information also could help providers identify any stigma or discrimination that a veteran has faced that might be affecting their health.

McDonough speaking at a Pride Month event last June at the Orlando VA Healthcare System, emphasized his support for Trans and LGBQ+ vets.

McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and take steps to expand access to care for transgender veterans.

With this commitment McDonough said he seeks to allow “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side,” McDonough said. “We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives,” he added.

In a survey of transgender veterans and transgender active-duty service members, transgender veterans reported several mental health diagnoses, including depression (65%), anxiety (41%), PTSD (31%), and substance abuse (16%).  In a study examining VHA patient records from 2000 to 2011 (before the 2011 VHA directive), the rate of suicide-related events among veterans with a gender identity disorder (GID) diagnoses was found to be 20 times higher than that of the general VHA patient population.

McDonough acknowledged the VA research pointing out that in addition to psychological distress, trans veterans also may experience prejudice and stigma. About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity.

“LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community,” McDonough said. “But they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination.

“At VA, we’re doing everything in our power to show veterans of all sexual orientations and gender identities that they can talk openly, honestly and comfortably with their health care providers about any issues they may be experiencing,” he added.

All VA facilities have had a local LGBTQ Veteran Care Coordinator responsible for helping those veterans connect to available services since 2016.

“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do but because they can save lives,” McDonough said. He added that the VA would also change the name of the Veterans Health Administration’s LGBT health program to the LGBTQ+ Health Program to reflect greater inclusiveness.

Much of the push for better access to healthcare and for recognition of the trans community is a result of the polices of President Joe Biden, who reversed the ban on Trans military enacted under former President Trump, expanding protections for transgender students and revived anti-bias safeguards in health care for transgender Americans.

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Florida

Prominent LGBTQ+ activist found dead in Florida landfill

Diaz-Johnston was the brother of former Miami mayor and Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz & he led the fight for marriage equality

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Photo courtesy of Don Diaz Johnston

Police in Florida’s capital city confirmed that the body of Jorge Diaz-Johnston, 54, who had been reported missing was found in a Jackson County landfill Saturday morning.

Diaz-Johnston was last seen alive Jan. 3 in Tallahassee, more than an hour from where his body was found, according to a missing person notice released by police. Detectives are investigating his death as a homicide, a police spokesperson said.

Diaz-Johnston, was the brother of former Miami mayor and Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz. As an LGBTQ advocate he led the fight for marriage equality, he and his husband were plaintiffs in an historic 2014 lawsuit that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Miami-Dade County.

ABC News reported at the time that a South Florida circuit court judge sided with Diaz-Johnston and five couples suing the Miami-Dade County Clerk’s Office for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Florida dropped its ban on same-sex marriage in 2015.

His husband wrote in a poignant Facebook post; “There are just no words for the loss of my beloved husband Jorge Isaias Diaz-Johnston. I can’t stop crying as I try and write this. But he meant so much to all of you as he did to me. So I am fighting through the tears to share with you our loss of him.”

“We are heartbroken to learn of the death of Jorge. He and his husband Don were two of the brave plaintiffs who took on Florida’s anti-gay marriage ban and helped win marriage equality for all Floridians,” Equality Florida said adding, “Our deepest condolences to Don and Jorge’s extended family.”

Detectives urge anyone who may have information to call 850-891-4200, or make an anonymous tip to Big Bend Crime Stoppers at 850-574-TIPS.

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National

Bill prohibiting ‘gay panic defense’ clears New Hampshire House

New Hampshire could soon join over a dozen other states which ban the use of ‘gay panic’ as a defense

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New Hampshire State House (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Legislation prohibiting defendants accused of manslaughter from using the victim’s gender, gender identity or sexual orientation as a defense, which had died in committee during the 2021 regular session of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, was reintroduced this session and passed with a 223-118 vote last week.

House Bill 238, stirred up controversary from opponents who claimed that state statues already covered murder and manslaughter. During a Criminal Justice committee hearing last Spring, Rep. Dick Marston, a Manchester Republican, voiced opposition, saying that the laws already cover murder and manslaughter and that “there’s no way in heck that you’re going to be able to say ‘Well because he or she was some deviant sexuality that I’m not–‘”

Marston was cut off by committee chairman Daryl Abbas, a Salem Republican, who gaveled him down and rebuked him for the derogatory language the Concord-Monitor reported

Later, the committee Republicans blocked an effort to move the bill out of committee alleging it needed more work and was not necessary because a jury could already strike down a similar attempted defense. The bill was then stalled in the committee, effectively killing it from being pushed further in last year’s session.

As the measure now heads to the state Senate, New Hampshire could soon join over a dozen other states which ban the use of the ‘gay panic’ as a defense.

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