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24 hours of New York marriage equality

Marriage equality has been in effect for over 24 hours in New York state, and hundreds of couples have already taken advantage

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On Sunday, New York state joined five other states and the district of Columbia in treating same-sex couples as equal to opposite-sex couples in state civil marriage.

Despite several protests organized by groups like the National Organization for Marriage and the Westboro Baptist Church, hundreds of couples married in the state of New York in the first 24 hours, 659 couples in New York City alone, according to the marriage equality advocacy group, On Top Magazine. The city had announced that they would allow 764 marriages to occur on Sunday after over 2600 same-sex couples had applied for marriage licences in advance of the July 24 start date. Many cities throughout the state had judges on hand to waive the 24 hour waiting period after applying for a licence to allow couples to marry immediately.

With these first marriages, New York becomes the most populous state to offer marriage equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples.  The bill was able to pass a Republican-controlled Senate thanks to the inclusion of very specific language in the legislation, carefully spelling out broad religious exemptions serving to ease the fears of religious institutions and organizations worried they could be sued or punished for refusing to recognize the marriages if the unions are not recognized by their particular institution. In most states, these exemptions are implied, but the additional care applied in the state Senate to defining these exemptions quelled the fears of some undecided lawmakers worried about fallout from religious groups. The bill passed the Senate June 24, 33-29 and was signed by the Governor just before midnight. Four Republicans supported the bill, and only one Democrat opposed.

Even some couples in the District, where same-sex marriage has been legal for over a year, plan to travel to wed in New York, where friends and family may be waiting to celebrate with them.

In locations throughout the state, same-sex couples vied for the title of “first” to be married in the state, exchanging vows at 12:01 a.m. in most cases.

Phyllis Siegal, 76, and Connie Kopelov, 84, — who have been together for 23 years — were the first couple married in New York City at 9:02 a.m. in Manhattan. Phyllis exchanged vows with Connie, who was in a wheelchair during the ceremony, but stood to address reporters with the help of a walker.

“These are two independent people who are joining together because they can see and they can feel how much better their lives will be,” city clerk Michael McSweeney said as the couple exchanged vows. “We are grateful that they are allowing us to share this truly momentous ceremony with them.”

Meanwhile, Kitty Lambert and Cheryle Rudd of Buffalo were the first couple married at Niagara Falls, and mayor Paul Dyster — who is looking to reclaim the city’s spot as world’s ‘Honeymoon Capital,’ according to an Associated Press report — officiated the ceremony that was timed to be completed one second after midnight. The couple exchanged vows on Luna Island with the American Horseshoe falls as a backdrop to their wedding. 46 couples were married Monday at the falls, as they were lit up in rainbow, giving new meaning to the city’s nickname, “The Rainbow City.”

In Albany, another 10 couples married just after the stroke of midnight, joining Kitty Lambert and Chereyle Rudd and others in the early morning celebrations across the state.

Though just in their early twenties, Dee Smith and Kate Wrede could not wait another day to marry. They were among the first same-sex couples in the state married in their middle of the night ceremony at the North Hempstead Town Hall in Manhasset.

According to the New York Post, the other first couples in New York City’s four other boroughs are Michael Faurey, 63, and Bobby Amagna, 65 in Brooklyn, after 20 years together, Greg Levine and Shane Serkiz were the first to marry in Queens, Carmen Hernandez and Doris DeArmas became the first same-sex couple to legally marry in the Bronx, and Bedelia Sanchez and Lavern Rivera — a New Jersey couple — were the first same-sex couple to legally marry on Staten Island.

On Sunday evening, Mayor Michael Bloomberg officiated the nuptials of two close advisers, his chief policy adviser, John Feinblatt, and his now-spouse, the city’s consumer affairs commissioner Jonathan Mintz, at Gracie Mansion, the Mayor of New York’s official residence.

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Congress

Raphael Warnock wins Ga. runoff

Democrats now control U.S. Senate by 51-49 margin

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(Public domain photo)

U.S. Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) defeated Republican challenger Herschel Walker Tuesday night in a run-off election.

In last month’s election, Warnock led Walker by 37,000 votes out of almost 4 million cast, but fell short of the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid the runoff.

Warnock’s victory means Democrats gain the outright majority in the Senate, with 51 seats to the Republicans’ 49, freeing them from a power-sharing agreement for committee assignments and diminishing the power of moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

Political commentator and journalist Jacob Rubashkin, reflecting on Warnock’s victory noted on Twitter; “In 1934, no Democratic senators lost re-election. But since 1934, every president, Democrat and Republican, has seen at least one senator from their party lose re-election in every single midterm cycle. Biden becomes the first president since FDR not to lose a single senator.”

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Congress

Inside Marjorie Taylor Greene’s unprecedented feud with gay Hill staffer

Tim Hysom speaks publicly for first time since he became target of harassment by right-wing lawmaker

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Tim Hysom in front of the U.S. Capitol building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

After more than 20 years in public service working behind the scenes on Capitol Hill, Tim Hysom never imagined he would be staring down the barrel of an Ethics Committee probe into whether he had brought discredit upon the U.S. House of Representatives.

Equally inconceivable was the barrage of intimidating and hateful messages from strangers that have persisted for months, which included credible threats of violence that prompted the U.S. Capitol Police to monitor Hysom’s home for concern over his and his family’s safety.

A longtime public servant whose career has included high-profile positions in the congressional offices of Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff (Calif.), Alan Lowenthal (Calif.), and Jake Auchincloss (Mass.), Hysom also spent five years at the Congressional Management Foundation working with Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate and served on the board of the House Chief of Staff Association, first as a vice president for Professional Development and later as president of the staff organization.

Now he is still trying to piece his life and career back together after the fallout from a conflict this summer with Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. Part of that effort, Hysom told the Washington Blade in an exclusive interview, is to go public after months of silence to tell the story of how the firebrand congresswoman, who is poised to become a member of Republican leadership in the House next year, launched an unprecedented attack on him with the goal, he claims, of forcing him out of Capitol Hill.

Congressional staff are rarely the subject of complaints filed to the House Ethics Committee. Nor are they often otherwise embroiled in controversies and political debates among members that attract public interest and news coverage.

The story of Greene’s conflict with Hysom breaks from that precedent, serving as, potentially, a harbinger of what may come when she is seated alongside Republican leadership in the next Congress.

It started with Greene’s transphobic sign

In February 2021, after Rep. Marie Newman (D-Ill.) hung a transgender flag outside her door in the Longworth House Office Building, Greene, whose office was directly across the hallway, put up a sign that read: “There are TWO genders: MALE & FEMALE…Trust The Science!”

When a series of stickers were placed on Greene’s signs over the course of several weeks earlier this year, she referred the matter to the Capitol Police, which identified Hysom in surveillance footage as the staffer placing the stickers on Greene’s signs. Using a point of personal privilege, Greene took to the House floor in June to rail against Hysom – then Auchincloss’s chief of staff – while admonishing the Justice Department for declining to bring charges against him.

Greene subsequently announced in July that she filed a complaint with the House Ethics Committee against Hysom.

Those events earned some media attention at the time, mostly from right-wing outlets, but the full story and its fallout have not yet been revealed. Nor has Hysom responded publicly before now, either through his social media or in comments to the press.

Asked for comment, Greene shared the following statement with the Blade:

“This has nothing to do with his sexual preference or orientation, or the fact that he’s married to a man, but it has everything to do with the fact that he attacked me, a Member of Congress, and my First Amendment freedom of speech, my Christian beliefs and values. He also broke the law vandalizing my office’s property multiple times, was caught on camera, and continued to do it. He’s been arrested. Unfortunately, the Department of Justice dropped the charges, but I think they should have pressed charges. It’s outrageous that a chief of staff would continue such illegal behavior, and he should be no longer employed in any office in the federal government.”

Hysom pointed out that in the first place, Greene’s decision to hang the sign seems to be a clear violation of House rules. 

While members are permitted to display flags within certain guidelines outside their offices in House office buildings, a policy updated in 2008 stipulates that: “Furnishings of any kind, including but not limited to furniture items (including sign-in/registration tables, pedestals, easels, carpets, rugs and mats); shades, drapes, and screens; artwork, exhibits and posters; and trees, flowers and other plants may not be placed in a hallway or exit access.”

“If she can violate the standing rules of the House and hang offensive and abusive material in the halls of Congress under the guise of free speech,” Hysom asked, “doesn’t the Constitution also protect my right to free speech?”

He added that Greene’s response was disproportional in the extreme. “Placing a sticker on a sign that isn’t supposed to be there in the first place is hardly a high crime or misdemeanor.”

Greene had also hung a sign that read, “Let’s go Brandon” with the hashtag “#FJB”– both slogans used on the right as substitutes for the phrase, “Fuck Joe Biden.” Hysom said many House staffers were deeply offended by the display of a message so disrespectful of the sitting president of the United States, and in a public corridor of a House government office building.

As a gay man whose religious upbringing taught the importance of love and respect as Christian virtues, Hysom was also offended when Greene hung the “there are TWO genders” sign to bully and taunt Newman.

After requesting a copy of the House’s policy governing decorations in the hallways of its office buildings, he put a sticker on Greene’s sign, which according to Hysom kicked off a back-and-forth exchange whereby Greene would occasionally respond to the stickers by writing a message on the poster back to Hysom, once signed (heart) MTG. Most of the stickers contained Bible verses to point out her hypocrisy, he said. When Hysom would put a sticker on one of Rep. Greene’s posters, she would take down the posters to replace them with new ones.

One sticker Hysom placed on Greene’s gender poster read, “True Disciples of Christ don’t say the things you say, act the way you act, or treat people the way you treat people.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s former office (Photo courtesy of Tim Hysom)

Greene’s escalation of the matter came as a surprise, Hysom told the Blade. “The reality is that I challenged her hate speech in the halls of the Congress in a way that triggered her and caused her to have a meltdown,” he said. “Her response was to send a like-minded horde of her followers to harass and threaten me.”  He added, “Regrettably, there are likely to be other waves of hate and vitriol, but I won’t be intimidated by her or her hate-filled acolytes.”

First, pursuant to the investigation by Capitol Police, likely conducted at Greene’s behest, an affidavit in support of an arrest warrant was issued. (Contrary to what Rep. Greene told the Blade, Hysom was never arrested or charged with a crime.)

Then, in her 31-minute speech denouncing Hysom from the House floor, Greene tried to goad Auchincloss into firing Hysom, while directing her supporters to bully and harass him.

Almost immediately, a deluge of threats and harassment started pouring in to Hysom’s personal and professional email and social media inboxes. He received a threatening letter at his home address. Many of the messages contained hateful anti-LGBTQ slurs. It continues to this day.

Now that the threats have died down, at least for now, Hysom said he is unsure whether his home is still being monitored by the Capitol Police, but the hateful messages have slowed, though they have persisted.

Example of a Facebook message Hysom received (Image courtesy of Tim Hysom)

Amid the chaos following Greene’s speech, Lowenthal reached out to offer support to his former chief of staff and extended an offer for Hysom to return to his office in the months before the lawmaker’s planned retirement from Congress at the end of this year.

The congressman sent a statement to the Blade on his experiences working with Hysom:

“Standing up to bullies and railing against injustice, while demanding equity and grace in how we treat one another, are ideals I have always aspired to. And yes, sometimes that demands what my dear friend John Lewis called ‘good trouble.’ Tim has always fought for these same ideals of justice and equality and he has demonstrated his above-and-beyond dedication to this institution more times than I can count.

“I have been honored to have him as a member of my staff, just as each of my staff have benefited, both personally and professionally, from working with him. The foundation of my success in Congress has been the efficient and effective office that Tim built for me and kept running smoothly through his more than eight-year tenure with my office. And despite his commitment to my office, he has also dedicated himself to the betterment of not only this institution as a whole, but to the development of the professional staff that works here.

“I can say without hesitation that Congress is a better institution for Tim being a part of it.”

For her part, Greene accused Hysom of targeting her for her gender and her religious beliefs. Among the messages she shared on Twitter were:

“Soon Biden’s DOJ will prosecute people for hate crimes if they dare try to stop trans strippers dressed in drag from grooming children at schools & in public, but they refuse to prosecute @JakeAuch COS Tim Hysom for hate crimes against my faith & gender and my district’s beliefs.”

And: “[email protected] did you know your COS Tim Hysom repeatedly targeted me? I have some of the highest number of death threats in Congress, with approx 60 official threats just this year and one man on trial for trying to kill me. Do you or Tim Hysom know any of them? Is Hysom one?”

Hysom assured the Blade he has not sent and would never send threatening messages to the congresswoman. Apart from the exchange over the stickers, he said he has never had any contact with Greene or her office.

The poster Greene took to the House floor on June 21 – which misleadingly accuses Hysom by name of criminal conduct with photos of him taken from surveillance footage – was hung outside Greene’s office in Longworth since that time. (It is unclear whether she brought it to her new space in the Cannon House Office Building.)

Ahead of Lowenthal’s retirement, Hysom said he’s actively job hunting. “I have some prospects, but nothing has materialized definitively yet,” he said. “It’s a bit scary, but I remain hopeful. I’m an institutionalist and I love the House. I’ve spent more than 20 years trying to build up the Congress and Rep. Greene has spent every waking minute of the last two years trying to tear it down.”

In terms of the impact of his conflict with Greene, Hysom said, “Nobody on my side of the aisle puts any credence whatsoever into what Congresswoman Greene says, so it’s not like people on my side of the aisle believe putting a sticker on her poster was a ‘hate crime’ or that a Bible verse on a sticker somehow means that I hate women or Christians. On the contrary, I simply tried to point out that what the congresswoman says and does are not at all Christ-like.”

Still, the last thing Hysom was looking for was a public feud with the congresswoman. “Nobody that knows me would consider me a rabble rouser,” he said. “Walking by those hateful signs every single day just finally got to me. I couldn’t let it go unanswered.”

And then, there’s the matter of the House Ethics Committee investigation.

“The committee is still deliberating on what to do next. These are uncharted waters,” Hysom said. Republicans on the committee are perhaps unlikely to cross Greene and vote with Democrats to dismiss the complaint, while Democrats would be unlikely to assist Greene in her quest to further punish Hysom by voting with Republicans to move forward and impanel an investigative subcommittee.

With the members deadlocked, the matter could die with the end of the current Congress, though the committee could vote to extend the case into the upcoming 118th Congress.

The House Ethics Committee declined to comment.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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State Department

State Department spokesperson criticizes new Russia propaganda law

Statute ‘pushes LGBTQI+ persons further to the margins of Russian society’

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State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Fund's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 3, 2022. Price, who is openly gay, has criticized an anti-LGBTQ propaganda law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed this week. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Tuesday sharply criticized the anti-LGBTQ propaganda law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the day before.

Price, who is openly gay, noted to reporters during a press briefing the law “further criminalizes the sharing of information about LGBTQI+ persons.”

“The law is another serious blow to freedom of expression in Russia, and a continuation of the Kremlin’s broader, long-running crackdown against marginalized persons, dissenting voices, civil society and independent media that it has intensified, as it has failed to achieve its objectives in its unconscionable war against Ukraine,” said Price. 

“The law pushes LGBTQI+ persons further to the margins of Russian society, fueling and amplifying the prejudice, discrimination, violence and stigma they face. The legislation is a clear attempt by the Kremlin to distract from its own failures by scapegoating vulnerable communities and creating phantom enemies,” he added. “We stand in solidarity with LGBTQI+ persons in Russia and around the world who seek to exercise the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes that all human beings are free and equal in dignity and rights.”

The law that Putin signed on Monday expands the existing “Protecting Children from Information Advocating a Denial of Traditional Family Values” statute that took effect in Russia in 2013. 

The new law will ban so-called LGBTQ propaganda and materials that discuss gender reassignment surgery and LGBTQ and intersex issues to minors, which it categorizes as the promotion of pedophilia. Russian media reports indicate the new law will apply to films, books, commercials, media outlets and computer games.

Anyone who violates the law could face a fine of up to 10 million rubles ($165,152.80.) Authorities could also force businesses and organizations to temporarily close, and foreigners who violate the law could face arrest, incarceration for up to 15 days, a fine of up to 5,000 rubles and deportation.

Putin signed the law against the backdrop of Russia’s continued war against Ukraine.

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