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Advocates see New York as a turning point in marriage equality effort

On July 24, New York will become the largest state offering same-sex couples the same rights in marriage as opposite-sex couples, more than doubling the population of Americans living in marriage equality states

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Empire State Building

Empire State Building lit up in rainbow colors in time to see marriage equality passed. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

On July 24, New York will become the largest state in the Union to offer same-sex marriage, and in doing so, will change the landscape for marriage equality in America.

On Friday, with a close 33-29 vote, the Republican-controlled New York state Senate approved a marriage equality bill, matching language on the legislation agreed to between leaders in both houses. The bill was signed by same-sex marriage advocate Gov. Andrew Cuomo just before midnight, which sets the official date the law takes effect as July 24.

Evan Wolfson, President of Freedom To Marry, a national marriage equality advocacy organization, sees New York as a turning point in the effort to extend marriage to same-sex couples in the United States.

“It means that the number of Americans living in a state where gay people share in the freedom to marry is more than doubling from 16 to 35 million,” Wolfson told the Blade, Monday. “Because this is New York, people across the country and around the world are going to see and hear the stories that prove that families are helped and no one is hurt when marriage discrimination ends.”

“Over the next 18 months if we do our work right, we can hope to bring other states to the Freedom to Marry, from Maine to Oregon, and others in between,” Wolfson continued.  “But the key in all 50 states is to have the conversations, support the campaigns and continue the national momentum that New York has just boosted.”

Currently, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, and D.C., where same-sex marriages are currently licensed, make up approximately 5 percent of the U.S. population. However, with the introduction of New York at the end of July, 11.4 percent of American citizens will live in a jurisdiction that offers marriage licences to all couples, regardless of gender.

This does not include the 5.8 million residents of Maryland, which recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, and the 81,406,229 who enjoy most or all of the same benefits and obligations as married couples in Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey and Nevada through Civil Unions or Domestic Partnership registries. Including these states brings the total number of Americans whose states officially recognize and protect same-sex relationships to nearly 40 percent.

With a jurisdiction the size of New York opening up the institution of marriage to all couples, same-sex partners throughout the country will likely be taking advantage of the new law, and the Empire State will become a top wedding destination for New York couples and couples from surrounding states alike.

Among those couples will be Carl Parker and Greg Wysocki of White Plains, N.Y. Parker 43 and his partner Wysocki 46, grew up in D.C. and until 2002, lived in suburban Maryland. They’ve been together nine years and now live in New York state, and both are eager to solemnize the relationship.

“We have a registered domestic partnership with Westchester County NY,” Parker told the Blade, “but plan on going to City Hall in White Plains as soon as possible to file for our marriage license. Our family and friends are so excited for us, they’re battling to be witnesses and a part of the ceremony. We are planning a larger even next year, since many of our friends are international and cant make it to New York in such short notice.”

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tom Duane, who is gay, was overjoyed at the bill’s passage.

“I want to commend the incredible leadership and passion of Gov. Andrew Cuomo who made good on his promise to make Marriage Equality the law in New York State,” the Senator said in a statement to the Blade on Monday. “I also want to thank my colleagues in the State Senate on both sides of the aisle, and in the Assembly, who took a courageous stand when it would have been far easier for them to turn away from what I know for many was a difficult issue.”

The law goes into effect on July 24, however, since that is a Sunday, couples are more likely to be able to get their licences on Monday, July 25. New York has a 24 hour waiting period after applying for the marriage license before the wedding can take place, therefore most likely, the first weddings will take place on Tuesday, July 26, barring special exceptions in cases where a judge waives the 24 hour waiting period, or County Clerks find a way to open on Sunday.

Of thirty Democratic Senators, only one voted against the bill, Ruben Diaz who, despite having a lesbian granddaughter, has been a strong opponent of marriage equality since long before voting against the failed 2009 marriage bill.

Of 32 Republicans, four voted for the bill, including Senators James Alesi, Roy McDonald, Stephen Saland and Mark Grisanti. Though the overwhelming majority of the 33 votes in favor of passage came from the Democratic side of the aisle, that four Republicans defected from their party, and that this bill was even allowed by Majority leader Skelos to come to a vote marks a sea change in the fight for extending these rights to more couples nation-wide.

The legislation included some amendments that would reduce the legal liability of religious organizations that refuse to solemnize any of the marriages that would be made legal under the new law. The amendments were added in the Senate on Friday, and before the Senate voted on the law, they were approved Friday afternoon by the lower house, which had already approved the bill 80-63 on June 15. The amendments would also allow non-profits affiliated with religious organizations to refuse to allow their facilities to be used in ceremonies related to same-sex weddings.

One major proponent of the law, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, released a statement on Saturday, the morning after the bill’s passage.

“Today’s passage in the New York State Senate of legislation recognizing the right of couples to marry regardless of their gender is a historic triumph for equality and freedom,” the statement reads in part. “New York has always been a leader in movements to extend freedom and equality to people who had been denied full membership in the American family.”

Many activists noted as crucial to victory the open collaboration between the various groups on the ground in New York. Some of the most visible groups on the front line of pushing public opinion and lobbying for votes were the Human Rights Campaign, as well as New York headquartered groups like Fight Back New York, Empire State Pride Agenda, and Freedom to Marry. Human Rights Campaign and Freedom to Marry had played roles previously in other marriage victories, such as the victory for marriage equality in the District of Columbia, and worked in tandem with the state organizations to create an effective overall strategy.

“We congratulate everyone who worked so hard, with special thanks to Gov. Cuomo, to have New York join us in the District of Columbia as a jurisdiction that recognizes the rights of gays and lesbians to marry,” said Peter Rosenstein, president of Campaign for All D.C. Families. “The fight in New York shows that by working together with victory being the goal, rather than who can claim credit for the victory, LGBT organizations and their allies can be successful.”

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The White House

EXCLUSIVE: Jill Biden to host White House Pride celebration

Event to take place on June 26

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First lady Jill Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden will host the White House Pride Month celebration on June 26, according to a press release previewed by the Washington Blade.

The party on the South Lawn will also feature a performance by singer, songwriter, actress, and record producer Deborah Cox and musical selections by DJ Trifle.

This year’s event comes on Equality Day this year, which honors the anniversaries of three landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that expanded rights and protections for LGBTQ Americans: Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down sodomy laws, United States v. Windsor (2013), which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which made marriage equality the law of the land.

The White House highlighted some of the “historic action” taken by President Joe Biden to “advance LGBTQ+ equality for the community,” including:

  • Signing into law the landmark Respect for Marriage Act which protects the rights of same-sex and interracial couples;
  • Appointing a historic number of LGBTQI+ and transgender appointees, including the first transgender American to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate;
  • Directing all federal agencies to strengthen civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity, resulting in agencies working to strengthen protections in housing, health care, education, employment, the criminal justice system, nutrition programs, and more;
  • Reversing the ban on open service by transgender members of the military;
  • Signing an executive order focused on LGBTQI+ children and families that directs agencies to address the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy” and finalized rule-making that ends disparities that LGBTQI+ children and parents face in the child welfare and foster care system and protects against disparities in health care; and
  • President Biden continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act to enshrine civil rights protections for LGBTQI+ Americans in federal law.

Last year, the president and the first lady hosted the celebration, which was the largest Pride event ever held at the White House.

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National

65% of Black Americans support Black LGBTQ rights: survey

Results show 40% have LGBTQ family member

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(Logo courtesy of the NBJC)

The National Black Justice Coalition, a D.C.-based LGBTQ advocacy organization, announced on June 19 that it commissioned what it believes to be a first-of-its-kind national survey of Black people in the United States in which 65 percent said they consider themselves “supporters of Black LGBTQ+ people and rights,” with 57 percent of the supporters saying they were “churchgoers.”

In a press release describing the findings of the survey, NBJC said it commissioned the research firm HIT Strategies to conduct the survey with support from five other national LGBTQ organizations – the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Family Equality, and GLSEN.

“One of the first surveys of its kind, explicitly sampling Black people (1,300 participants) on Black LGBTQ+ people and issues – including an oversampling of Black LGBTQ+ participants to provide a more representative view of this subgroup – it investigates the sentiments, stories, perceptions, and priorities around Black values and progressive policies, to better understand how they impact Black views on Black LGBTQ+ people,” the press release says.

It says the survey found, among other things, that 73 percent of Gen Z respondents, who in 2024 are between the ages of 12 and 27, “agree that the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people.”

According to the press release, it also found that 40 percent of Black people in the survey reported having a family member who identifies as LGBTQ+ and 80 percent reported having “some proximity to gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer people, but only 42 percent have some proximity to transgender or gender-expansive people.”

The survey includes these additional findings:

• 86% of Black people nationally report having a feeling of shared fate and connectivity with other Black people in the U.S., but this view doesn’t fully extend to the Black LGBTQ+ community. Around half — 51% — of Black people surveyed feel a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.

• 34% reported the belief that Black LGBTQ+ people “lead with their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Those participants were “significantly less likely to support the Black LGBTQ+ community and most likely to report not feeling a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.”

• 92% of Black people in the survey reported “concern about youth suicide after being shown statistics about the heightened rate among Black LGBTQ+ youth.” Those expressing this concern included 83% of self-reported opponents of LGBTQ+ rights.

• “Black people’s support for LGBTQ+ rights can be sorted into three major groups: 29% Active Accomplices, 25% Passive Allies (high potential to be moved), 35% Opponents. Among Opponents, ‘competing priorities’ and ‘religious beliefs’ are the two most significant barriers to supporting Black LGBTQ+ people and issues.”

• 10% of the survey participants identified as LGBTQ. Among those who identified as LGBTQ, 38% identified as bisexual, 33% identified as lesbian or gay, 28% identified as non-binary or gender non-conforming, and 6% identified as transgender.

• Also, among those who identified as LGBTQ, 89% think the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people, 69% think Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedoms than other Black people, 35% think non-Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedom than other Black people, 54% “feel their vote has a lot of power,” 51% live in urban areas, and 75% rarely or never attend church.

Additional information about the survey from NBJC can be accessed here.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Club Q shooter sentenced to life in prison for federal hate crimes

Five people killed in 2022 mass shooting in Colo.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. (Justice Department YouTube screenshot)

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 24, formerly of Colorado Springs, Colo., was sentenced to 55 concurrent life sentences to run consecutive to 190 years in prison after pleading guilty to 74 hate crimes and firearms charges related to the Nov. 19, 2022, mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ establishment in Colorado Springs.  

According to the plea agreement, Aldrich admitted to murdering five people, injuring 19, and attempting to murder 26 more in a willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated attack at Club Q. According to the plea, Aldrich entered Club Q armed with a loaded, privately manufactured assault weapon, and began firing. Aldrich continued firing until subdued by patrons of the club. As part of the plea, Aldrich admitted that this attack was in part motivated because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of any person.

“Fueled by hate, the defendant targeted members of the LGBTQIA+ community at a place that represented belonging, safety, and acceptance — stealing five people from their loved ones, injuring 19 others, and striking fear across the country,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “Today’s sentencing makes clear that the Justice Department is committed to protecting the right of every person in this country to live free from the fear that they will be targeted by hate-fueled violence or discrimination based on who they are or who they love. I am grateful to every agent, prosecutor, and staff member across the Department — from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, to the Civil Rights Division, the ATF, and FBI — for their work on this case. The Justice Department will never stop working to defend the safety and civil rights of all people in our country.”

“The 2022 mass shooting at Club Q is one of the most violent crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community in history,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI and our partners have worked tirelessly towards this sentencing, but the true heroes are the patrons of the club who selflessly acted to subdue the defendant. This Pride Month and every month, the FBI stands with the survivors, victims, and families of homophobic violence and hate.”

“ATF will not rest until perpetrators like this defendant are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Steven Dettelbach, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “I hope today’s life sentence brings at least some peace to the victims and survivors of this senseless, horrific tragedy. That this sentence should come during Pride month reinforces how far we have left to go before all communities, including all LGBTQIA+ communities, are safe here. It also shows how far ATF and all our partners will go to ensure hatred does not win.”

“The defendant’s mass shooting and heinous targeting of Club Q is one of the most devastating assaults on the LGBTQIA+ community in our nation’s history. This sentence cannot reclaim the lives lost or undo the harms inflicted. But we hope that it provides the survivors, the victims’ families, and their communities a small measure of justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our message today should be loud and clear. No one should have to fear for their life or their safety because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who perpetrate hate-fueled, bias-driven attacks.”

“Hate has no place in our country and no place in Colorado” said Acting U.S. Attorney Matt Kirsch for the District of Colorado. “I hope that today’s sentence demonstrates to the victims and those connected to this horrific event that we do not tolerate these heinous acts of violence.”

The FBI Denver Field Office, Colorado Springs Police Department, and ATF investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Connaughty and Bryan Fields for the District of Colorado and, Maura White of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case.

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