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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



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.


The White House

VP Harris to oversee White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Goal is to implement and expand upon legislation, executive actions



U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, September 2023. (Official White House photograph by Lawrence Jackson)

The White House announced Thursday evening that President Joe Biden on Friday will establish the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris.

The office will focus on implementing and expanding upon executive and legislative actions, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, “to reduce gun violence, which has ravaged communities across the country.”

Serving under Harris will be Stefanie Feldman, “a longtime policy advisor to President Biden on gun violence prevention,” and “leading gun violence prevention advocates Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox.”

“Every time I’ve met with families impacted by gun violence as they mourn their loved ones, and I’ve met with so many throughout the country, they all have the same message for their elected officials: ‘do something,'” Biden said in a statement.

The president noted his signing of last year’s bipartisan gun violence prevention law, a flagship legislative accomplishment for the administration, along with his issuance of more executive actions than any president in history to address this problem.

Calling these “just the first steps,” Biden said the establishment of the White House Office on Gun Violence Prevention will “build upon these measures and keep Americans safe.”

He also urged Congress to do more by passing legislation requiring universal background checks, and baning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

In a statement, Harris said, “This epidemic of gun violence requires urgent leadership to end the fear and trauma that Americans experience every day.”

“The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will play a critical role in implementing President Biden’s and my efforts to reduce violence to the fullest extent under the law,” she said, “while also engaging and encouraging Congressional leaders, state and local leaders, and advocates to come together to build upon the meaningful progress that we have made to save lives.”

“Our promise to the American people is this: we will not stop working to end the epidemic of gun violence in every community, because we do not have a moment, nor a life to spare,” the vice president said.

Then Vice President Biden hugs Brandon J. Wolf as he talks with family members of the victims and survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
Wolf, a Pulse survivor, was recently appointed National Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
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LGBTQ media ‘excited’ about Press Forward national media funds

Coalition of donors pledges $500 million for local news



Members of News Is Out, a collaborative of six leading LGBTQ media organizations across the country, have expressed support and excitement about the newly announced national Press Forward effort to support local media in the United States. News Is Out members represent more than 200 years of LGBTQ news and culture coverage, with two member papers starting more than 50 years ago.

“This new effort from foundations, including MacArthur Foundation and Knight Foundation, truly will be a game-changer in the local media space,” said Tracy Baim, co-founder of Windy City Times, which is part of a Chicago collaborative that is also advocating for local funding in that city. “Local media are critical to covering issues across the country, from LGBTQ+ and environmental issues to education and criminal justice reform. Philanthropy can provide an important complement to other needed revenues to help local media survive and thrive.”

In the U.S., 7.1 percent of adults, or 18 million people, identify as LGBTQ, according to Gallup. About 21 percent of Gen Z identifies as LGBTQ. The media serving this community has been life-saving, resource sharing and an integral part of the movement for LGBTQ equality, News Is Out members said, adding that this media continues to fill a vital information need.

According to the Press Forward announcement, “A coalition of 22 donors announced Press Forward, a national initiative to strengthen communities and democracy by supporting local news and information with an infusion of more than a half-billion dollars over the next five years.

“Press Forward will enhance local journalism at an unprecedented level to re-center local news as a force for community cohesion; support new models and solutions that are ready to scale; and close longstanding inequities in journalism coverage and practice.”

The Knight Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation have been leading the Press Forward effort.

News Is Out is supported in part by a technology grant from the Knight Foundation. The program is called the Queer Media Sustainability Lab

News Is Out is a nearly two-year-old alliance created launched by the Local Media Association, with initial funding from Google News Initiative. The members are Bay Area Reporter, Dallas Voice, Philadelphia Gay News, Washington Blade, Windy City Times and TAGG, a national queer women’s magazine.

News Is Out members have collaborated on editorial, business and fundraising opportunities.

“LGBTQ media have always played a critical role in covering and informing our communities,” said Lynne Brown, publisher of the Washington Blade. “While we have lost dozens of LGBTQ news media outlets in recent years, those of us who have survived are thriving in 2023. We have done so because we have innovated and sought new forms of revenue. The News Is Out Collaborative has assisted with support that propels us forward.”

“LGBTQ+ media is needed now more than ever, as our communities face a backlash across this country,” said Leo Cusimano, publisher of the Dallas Voice. “By working together in News Is Out, we have formed a strong alliance to help our members in technology training, editorial collaborations and much more. New funds into this ecosystem will be vital to strengthening the network of local LGBTQ+ media in this country.”

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Federal Government

Census Bureau asks White House to test questions on sexual orientation, gender identity

Data would be included in annual American Community Survey



U.S. Census Bureau (Photo credit: GSA)

The U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday asked the Biden administration to sign off on plans to test questions on sexual orientation and gender identity for respondents aged 15 and older on the agency’s annual American Community Survey.

Data on these metrics will help inform civil rights and equal employment enforcement, the Census Bureau said in a notice published on the Federal Register.

Testing will help the agency determine wording, response categories and placement of the questions on the survey — its most comprehensive, covering 3.5 million households each year.

A key unknown will be how answers will be provided by proxies such as parents, spouses or others in a household who isn’t the person about whom the question is asked.

“Younger LGBT people might not yet be out to their parents or others who are answering these questions as a proxy reporter, so the quality of the data might not be as good for younger people,” M. V. Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told PBS News.

Currently, the Census Bureau and its annual American Community Survey only ask questions about same-sex couples who are married or cohabitating.

“We anticipate having much more info about the LGBT people than is currently available — including about the demographic and socioeconomic status of LGBT people who aren’t in same-sex couple households, including occupational status, industry and wages, and about LGBT people who were born outside the U.S. and LGBT people with disabilities, and their families,” Kerith Conron, research director of the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, told the Associated Press.

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