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DOMA repeal unlikely to find a single GOP vote in committee

‘Poison pill’ amendments could emerge during panel markup



Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Legislation that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act is unlikely to win support from a single Republican during an upcoming committee vote on the bill.

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to begin debate leading to a vote on the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the 1996 law prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Although the committee action on the legislation is set begin on Thursday, the panel will likely hold off on consideration of the bill for another week. Committee rules allow for any member of the panel to hold bills over when they first appear on the executive committee agenda.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the sponsor of the DOMA repeal bill, told the Washington Blade in a brief exchange on Capitol Hill that she expects the committee to postpone action on the Respect for Marriage Act after the panel convenes.

“Everybody has the right to put it over for one week, so it’ll be put over,” Feinstein said.

Members of the committee may read opening statements on Thursday regarding their views on DOMA, but action will likely be postponed.

All 10 Democrats on the 18-member panel are supporters of DOMA repeal, so the legislation should have no trouble moving out of committee. But LGBT advocates are dubious about finding support from any Republicans on the panel.

Of the eight Republican members of the panel, six received a score of “0” in the Human Rights Campaign’s most recent scorecard of federal legislators. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had a score of 13 out of 100. Another committee member, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), is a newcomer and wasn’t rated during the 111th Congress.

Rick Jacobs, chair of the Courage Campaign, said he isn’t expecting a single Republican vote during the committee consideration of the Respect for Marriage Act.

“I don’t think they will,” Jacobs said. “They should. We welcome them. … This should be non-partisan because it simply restores the status quo ante. For people who are states’ rights advocates, join the party.”

The Courage Campaign, a progressive grassroots organization, has been working to build the number of Senate co-sponsors for the Respect for Marriage Act by circulating petitions among state residents and sending them to senators. The group is currently focused on adding Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) as supporters.

The Blade placed calls to each of the eight Republican members of the committee to inquire about how the senators would vote when the Respect for Marriage Act comes before them. Only the office of Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the committee, responded immediately.

Beth Levine, a Grassley spokesperson, said the senator “has been very clear how he feels about this bill” and “supports the Defense of Marriage Act.”

During the Senate committee hearing on DOMA in July, Grassley articulated his opposition to lifting DOMA from the books in his opening statement.

“A real bill to restore marriage would restore marriage as it has been known: as between one man and one woman,” Grassley said. “That is the view of marriage that I support. This bill would undermine, not restore marriage, by repealing the Defense of Marriage Act.”

The Respect for Marriage Act wouldn’t compel states to recognize same-sex marriages, but would lift the provision preventing federal benefits and responsibilities from flowing to existing married gay couples throughout the country.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said his organization is communicating with GOP members of the committee in conjunction with Freedom to Marry, but added he couldn’t name any Republican who would vote “yes.”

“We’re still working and communicating with them,” Cooper said. “But I’ll leave it at that.”

In addition to voting against the legislation, Republican opponents of the Respect for Marriage Act may offer amendments to force senators to vote on uncomfortable issues or alter the legislation so supporters would no longer back it.

Such amendments are often called “poison pill” amendments because they serve no purpose other than to disrupt the measure at hand.

Feinstein acknowledged that amendments attempting to derail passage of the Respect for Marriage Act could come up, but expressed skepticism that any would move forward.

“That’s certainly a possibility,” Feinstein said. “I don’t know whether it’s a probability or not — there’ll certainly be amendments. Whether they would be poison pill — I would be doubtful of that. But that’s just me.”

LGBT advocates say they’re awaiting Republican amendments aimed at disrupting passage of the Respect for Marriage Act to come up in committee, but don’t want to speculate on the nature of the measures.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, an HRC spokesperson, said Republicans may want to score points with their conservative base by offering disruptive amendments.

“The interesting thing will be to see to degree to which committee Republicans will want to offer amendments or otherwise make political hay out of this issue,” Cole-Schwartz said.

Even if the bill is advanced out of committee, supporters of the legislation will face a stiff challenge in passing the bill on the Senate floor. In addition to Feinstein, the legislation has 30 co-sponsors — all Democrats — far short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster on the Senate floor.

The office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request for comment on whether the Democratic leadership would bring the bill up for a vote during the 112th Congress.

Feinstein said she hasn’t engaged in talks with Reid on bringing the Respect for Marriage Act to the Senate floor. Asked whether she had conversations with him about the bill, Feinstein replied, “No. Not at this time. Let’s get it out of committee first.”

The California lawmaker said she doesn’t “necessarily” expect a floor vote on the bill before this Congress adjourns at the end of next year, saying “We’d like to win it.”

Cole-Schwartz said the full Senate “remains a challenge” in passing DOMA repeal, but the committee markup would be effective in building momentum for the legislation.

“There’s a lot more work to be done to gain additional co-sponsors, to educate members on the issue,” he said. “It’s important that we get Republican co-sponsors on the bill before we’re really going to be in a position to win 60 votes on the floor.”

Passage in the U.S. House would be even more difficult. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) indicated in July he wouldn’t bring the legislation to a vote on the House floor, telling the Blade that DOMA is “the law of the land, and should remain the law of the land.”

An amendment affirming DOMA sponsored by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) passed in July on the House floor by a vote of 248-175.

Despite these challenges, Jacobs said the effort is still worthy and he’s “not going to give up on the idea” the bill could pass this Congress.

“I think it’s really obvious and simple: people didn’t think that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ would move as it did,” Jacobs said. “As a community,  we have to continue to organize with our friends and our allies, and we have this great opportunity with this markup now, and if we keep going we’ll win.”




Texas governor signs bill banning transgender youth healthcare

Senate Bill 14 to take effect on Sept. 1



Landon Richie, a 21-year-old political science major and a leading transgender activist, protesting at the Texas Capitol in May. (Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

By Alex Nguyen and William Melhado | Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Friday a bill that bars transgender kids from getting puberty blockers and hormone therapies, though the new law could face legal challenges before it takes effect on Sept. 1.

Senate Bill 14’s passage brings to the finish line a legislative priority for the Republican Party of Texas, which opposes any efforts to validate transgender identities. Trans kids, their parents and LGBTQ advocacy groups fiercely oppose the law, and some have vowed to stop it from going into effect.

Texas — home to one of the largest trans communities in the U.S. — is now one of over a dozen states that restrict transition-related care for trans minors.

“Cruelty has always been the point,” said Emmett Schelling, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas. “It’s not shocking that this governor would sign SB14 right at the beginning of Pride [month]; however this will not stop trans people from continuing to exist with authenticity — as we always have.”

Authored by New Braunfels Republican state Sen. Donna Campbell, the law bars trans kids from getting puberty blockers and hormone therapies, treatments many medical groups support. Children already receiving these treatments will have to be “weaned off” in a “medically appropriate” manner. The law also bans transition-related surgeries for kids, though those are rarely performed on minors.

Those who support the law claim that health care providers have capitalized on a “social contagion” to misguide parents and push life-altering treatments on kids who may later regret their decisions. SB 14’s supporters have also disputed the science and research behind transition-related care.

But trans kids, their parents and major medical groups say these medical treatments are important to protecting the mental health of an already vulnerable population, which faces a higher risk of depression and suicide than their cisgender peers. At the same time, doctors say cutting off these treatments — gradually or abruptly — could bring both physical discomfort and psychological distress to trans youth, some of whom have called it forced detransitioning.

In response, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, Lambda Legal and the Transgender Law Center pledged on May 18 to fight SB 14 in court. They have yet to file a lawsuit.

“Transgender people have always been here and will always be here,” Ash Hall, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, said Friday. “Our trans youth deserve a world where they can shine alongside their peers, and we will keep advocating for that world in and out of the courts.”

This legal threat is not new; some of these groups have sued several other states over their restrictions. Earlier this year, the Department of Justice also joined the legal fight against Tennessee’s ban.

While the lawsuits are tailored to each state, Sasha Buchert, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal and the director of its Nonbinary and Transgender Rights Project, told the Texas Tribune last month that a major common challenge to the laws hinges on the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and the argument that these laws are stopping trans kids from accessing the same medical treatments that are still available to their cisgender peers.

Buchert added that the lawsuits’ immediate goal is generally to get a preliminary injunction to stop these laws from taking effect, a tactic that has seen some success.

“It’s one thing to see some of the things that state legislators do, but it’s a completely different thing when you’re under the white-hot spotlight of judicial scrutiny,” she said.

And prior to SB 14, the ACLU and Lambda Legal successfully sued Texas last year to halt state-ordered child abuse investigations of parents who provide their trans kids with access to transition-related care. Impeached Attorney General Ken Paxton later appealed the decision in March, but the 3rd Court of Appeals has yet to issue a ruling on it.

“It’s a privilege to be able to fight,” Buchert said about the ongoing court challenges that Lambda Legal is involved in.

Editor’s note:

In a late Friday evening phone call, Landon Richie, with the Transgender Education Network of Texas, told the Washington Blade:

“Today Governor Abbott signed cruelty into law. Legislation that purports to ‘protect youth’ while stripping them of the life-saving, life-giving care that they receive will cost lives, and that’s not an exaggeration. Trans kids deserve not only to exist, but to thrive as their authentic selves in every facet of their lives, and we will never stop fighting to to actualize a world where that is undisputed. Despite efforts by our state, trans people will always exist in Texas, as we always have, and we will continue to exist brilliantly and boldly, and with endless care for one another.”


The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

Disclosure: The ACLU of Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge rules Tenn. drag ban is unconstitutional

Law was to have taken effect April 1



(Bigstock photo)

U. S. District Court Judge Thomas L. Parker of the U. S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee declared Tennessee’s anti-drag Adult Entertainment Act to be unconstitutional.

Parker’s ruling comes after a two-day trial last month. A Shelby County-based LGBTQ theatre company, Friends of George’s, had sued the state of Tennessee, claiming the law unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

Parker ordered a temporary injunction halting the just enacted Tennessee law that criminalizes some drag performances, hours before it was set to take effect April 1. In his 15 page ruling ordering the temporary injunction Parker wrote:

“If Tennessee wishes to exercise its police power in restricting speech it considers obscene, it must do so within the constraints and framework of the United States Constitution. […] The court finds that, as it stands, the record here suggests that when the legislature passed this statute, it missed the mark.”

Attorneys for the theatre company had argued that drag performances were an artform and protected speech under the first amendment.

In his 70 page ruling Friday, Parker wrote:

“After considering the briefs and evidence presented at trial, the court finds that — despite
Tennessee’s compelling interest in protecting the psychological and physical wellbeing of
children — the Adult Entertainment Act (“AEA”) is an UNCONSTITUTIONAL restriction on
the freedom of speech.”

“The court concludes that the AEA is both unconstitutionally vague and substantially
overbroad. The AEA’s ‘harmful to minors’ standard applies to minors of all ages, so it fails to
provide fair notice of what is prohibited, and it encourages discriminatory enforcement. The
AEA is substantially overbroad because it applies to public property or ‘anywhere’ a minor
could be present.”

Read the entire ruling:

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LGBTQ literature advocacy org to host celebrity panel

Discussion to be moderated by writer Sa’iyda Shabazz, ‘Glee’ actor Chris Colfer



‘Glee’ actor Chris Colfer will be one of four panelists at a virtual event hosted by Pride and Less Prejudice on Saturday, June 3. (Photo by Kathclick/Bigstock)

Affectionately known by fans of the show as the “fashionable soprano,” Chris Colfer’s character in “Glee” came out as gay to his father in the fourth episode of the Golden Globe-winning musical drama series. Colfer paused in between fragments of sentences to catch his breath as his pupils, set atop his recognizable rosy cheeks, dilated.

“Being a part of…the glee club and football has really shown me that I can be anything,” he said. “And what I am is…I’m gay.”

Colfer, who is also author of young adult fiction series “The Land of Stories,” will be one of four panelists at a virtual event hosted by LGBTQ organization Pride and Less Prejudice (PLP) on Saturday, June 3. At the event, panelists will discuss queer visibility in authorship and the importance of queer people telling queer stories. 

“We selected [them] because we’re trying to look at the intersection between TV, film, podcasts, [and] books because it’s all media and it’s all really great avenues for queer people telling their own story,” said Rebecca Damante, co-founder and outreach coordinator of the organization.

PLP began in 2019 when Damante had conversations with her mother about her experiences as a queer person and how she came to terms with her sexuality in high school. Although she watched shows such as “Glee” and “Pretty Little Liars” that had great queer representation, she knew that “it would’ve made a huge difference” if she had seen this as a kid.

“I was a huge reader as a kid and my mom had a lot of great books in our library about interfaith families and adoption,” said Damante. “I come from an interfaith family and have family members who are adopted, so she had diverse books in that way but never really had LGBTQ inclusive books.”

This motivated the mother-daughter duo to start an organization that donates LGBTQ-inclusive books to classrooms from pre-K to third grade.

They posted a Google form to social media that was reposted by GLAAD, where Damante had interned, and amplified by LGBTQ activist Kristin Russo. Teachers would put in requests for books and this allowed PLP to start an email chain that they could also use to solicit donations. 

It wasn’t until Damante posted to Pantsuit Nation, a Facebook group that rallied Hillary Clinton supporters during her 2016 presidential run, that PLP garnered interest from hundreds of teachers. This led to a celebrity campaign video where actors Nicole Maines, Theo Germaine, and Darryl Stephens, among others, emphasized the importance of LGBTQ literature in classrooms. 

Since 2019, the organization has raised more than $140,000 in grants and donations and donated over 8,000 books. 

Dylan Moss, a kindergarten teacher in Albany, N.Y., is among those who have benefitted from PLP’s efforts. 

During a quest for more diverse and inclusive books for his classroom, he stumbled upon PLP’s website between 2020 and 2021 and reached out to the organization. Since then, he has been actively involved in PLP’s efforts and is now a member of the advisory committee that helps to create lesson plans that accompany the books.

“Biases start to get formed [in kindergarten], so I like to help [my students] create better narratives,” said Moss in a Zoom interview. “It’s easier to learn it now than to take away all the negative biases they have from everyday society, family, and just being around other humans.”

Moss also added, over email, that when discussing diverse topics in the classroom, conversations are aligned with social studies standards. 

“I’d rather [my students] understand that people are different and that there’s a reason we’re different and that we should love that we’re different,” he said on Zoom. “You don’t have to go deep into the ideas necessarily. You can just give them the basis of what you’re saying and kind of let them take it from there.” 

For Lisa Forman, Damante’s mom and co-founder and executive director of PLP, approaching education this way is not only a form of allyship and advocacy, it’s “standing up for what’s right.”

The first half of the 2022-2023 school year saw 1,477 attempts to ban 874 individual book titles, 26% of which had LGBTQ characters or themes, according to data from Pen America, an organization that advances human rights and literature causes in the United States and worldwide. 

In 2022, the Washington Blade reported that a Loudoun County, Va., school board voted to remove “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” an illustrated autobiography by non-binary author Maia Kobabe that contains descriptions and comic book style drawings of sexual acts that Kobabe uses to tell the story of the journey and struggle in discovering the author’s gender identity.

“As much as these books are for the queer kids in the classroom, they’re for every kid,” said Forman. “We’re doing this not just for the queer kids…we want to normalize the idea of being queer in the classroom.”

Looking to the upcoming celebrity panel, Damante wants to leave attendees feeling inspired enough to own their narratives, whether they identify as queer or not. 

“If teachers are able to see the impact of these queer stories then they’ll understand why it’s important for them to share the books,” she said. 

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