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House approves amendment reaffirming DOMA

Measure prohibits use of funds in violation of anti-gay statute

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The U.S. House voted late Wednesday night in favor of a measure that aims to stop the Obama administration from taking any action in violation of the Defense of Marriage Act — even though the administration continues to enforce the law.

In a 245-171 vote, House lawmakers approved the amendment, introduced by freshman Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas), as part of Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations legislation. The amendment reads, “None of the funds made available under this Act, may be used in contravention of the Defense of Marriage Act.”

Ian Thompson, legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the amendment in effect does nothing because although the Justice Department is no longer defending DOMA in court, the Obama administration is still enforcing it.

“The Huelskamp Amendment is a solution in search of a problem,” Thompson said. “While there are multiple legal challenges to DOMA working their way through the federal courts, it is still binding. This amendment serves absolutely no purpose other than to score political points at the expense of gay and lesbian couples.”

After the Obama administration declared DOMA unconstitutional, the Justice Department filed legal briefs against the anti-gay law and sent Justice Department attorneys to argue against the statute in court during oral arguments. However, the administration continues to enforce the statute, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

According to Roll Call newspaper, Huelskamp had initially planned an amendment that would barred the use of funds for arguing against DOMA in court — which, if passed into law, would have had real impact. Huelskamp ultimately didn’t press forward with that amendment.

Huelskamp reportedly said he introduced the amendment not only because the Justice Department stopped defending DOMA in court, but also because of Vice President Joe Biden’s endorsement of same-sex marriage Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“The most immediate reason was the comments of the vice president of the United States,” Huelskamp was quoted as saying. “Stating his position is fine, but you tie that together with the issues with the lawsuit in California in which, essentially, the attorney general walked away from DOMA and said, ‘I’m not going to defend that.'”

Although the amendment passed on largely a party-line basis, seven Republicans voted “no”:  Reps. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.), Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), and Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.).

The 16 Democrats voted for the measure were Reps. John Barrow (D-Ga.), Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), Dan Boren (D-Okla.), Ben Chandler (D-Ky.), Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), Mark Critz (D-Pa.), Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), Tim Holden (D-Pa.), Larry Kissell (D-N.C.), Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Jim Matheson (D-Utah), Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Nick Rahall (D-W.V.), Mike Ross (D-Ark.), and Heath Shuler (D-N.C.)

Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said House Republicans “voted to tie the hands of the Obama administration with respect to their efforts to end discrimination against America’s families.”

“House Republicans continue to plant their feet firmly on the wrong side of history,” Hammill said. “Republican leaders refuse to bring up a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act that includes critical domestic violence protections for the LGBT community, and Speaker Boehner continues his legal boondoggle to use taxpayer funds to defend the indefensible Defense of Marriage Act in court, including cases involving the families of our men and women of our U.S. Armed Forces.”

Hammill added, “These discriminatory actions only serve to advance fundamental unfairness in our society and are against the principles of liberty and equality that our country is built upon.”

NOTE: This post has been updated to list the Democrats who voted for the measure.

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Federal Government

Nonbinary Energy Department official charged with second luggage theft

Sam Brinton placed on administrative leave after first allegation

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Samuel Brinton, gay news, Washington Blade
Sam Brinton (Photo courtesy of Sam Brinton)

Sam Brinton, the first openly genderfluid person appointed to a senior government post, was served with a felony arrest warrant Friday following a second incident in which they were accused of stealing luggage from an airport.

New charges accuse Brinton of grand larceny of property valued between $1,200 and $5,000, for stealing luggage at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas. They were previously charged with a felony for lifting a suitcase from baggage claim at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Sept. 16.

Brinton joined the U.S. Department of Energy this year as deputy assistant secretary for spent fuel and waste disposition. The New York Post reported they were put on leave following the first incident.

“The Department of Energy takes criminal charges against DOE employees and clearance holders very seriously,” a Department of Energy spokesperson told the Washington Blade in a statement. “Sam Brinton, a career civil servant, is on administrative leave. The department is limited by law on what it can disclose on personnel matters, such as an employee’s clearance status. Generally, as the department has previously stated, if a DOE clearance holder is charged with a crime, the case would be immediately considered by DOE personnel security officials, and depending on the circumstances, that review could result in suspension or revocation of the clearance.”

On Dec. 7, a group of 16 Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, including far-right Congress members Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.) and Louie Gohmert (Texas), called on Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to demand Brinton’s resignation.

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Congress

Sen. Sinema changes party affiliation from Democrat to independent

Lawmaker made history in 2018, becoming first bi member to serve in Senate

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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona said during an interview with POLITICO on Friday that she will switch her party affiliation from Democrat to independent but pledged not to change the way she has voted over the past four years in the Senate.

Sinema’s announcement comes just two days after Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia prevailed in a runoff election against Republican challenger Herschel Walker, widening Democrats’ razor thin majority in the upper chamber.

“I don’t anticipate that anything will change about the Senate structure,” Sinema told POLITICO. “I intend to show up to work, do the same work that I always do. I just intend to show up to work as an independent.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre released a statement on her decision:

“Senator Sinema has been a key partner on some of the historic legislation President Biden has championed over the last 20 months, from the American Rescue Plan to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, from the Inflation Reduction Act to the CHIPS and Science Act, from the PACT Act to the Gun Safety Act to the Respect for Marriage Act, and more.

“We understand that her decision to register as an independent in Arizona does not change the new Democratic majority control of the Senate, and we have every reason to expect that we will continue to work successfully with her.”

Sinema’s reputation as an iconoclast has occasionally frustrated her Democratic colleagues in the chamber as well as progressives more broadly. Critics were puzzled by what they saw as the Arizona Senator’s fealty to multinational pharmaceutical companies, hedge funds, and venture capital firms.

More recently, however, Sinema was credited for her instrumental work earning her GOP colleagues’ support for the Respect for Marriage Act, which earned a filibuster proof majority and is now on its way to be signed into law.

Sinema made history with her election to the Senate in 2018, becoming the first bisexual and second LGBTQ person (behind Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin) to serve in the upper chamber.

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National

Brittney Griner returns to U.S.

WNBA star released in exchange for Russian arms dealer

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Brittney Griner before she left Moscow on Dec. 8, 2022. (Screen capture via Russian State Media)

WNBA star Brittney Griner returned to the U.S. on Friday after Russia released her in exchange for a convicted arms dealer.

Griner landed at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio at around 5:30 a.m. ET. 

Media reports indicate Griner then went to the U.S. Army’s Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. They also said she will undergo a medical examination at the Brooke Army Medical Center.

“So happy to have Brittney back on U.S. soil,” tweeted “Welcome home BG.”

Griner had been serving a nine-year prison sentence in a penal colony after a Russian court convicted her on the importation of illegal drugs after Russian customs officials in February found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

President Biden on Thursday announced Russia had released Griner in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S.

Russian media broadcast a video of the exchange that took place at an airport in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. 

Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, was with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken when they spoke with Griner from the Oval Office before she left for the U.S.

“She is safe,” said Biden. “She is on a plane. She is on her way home.”

Advocacy groups are among those who welcomed Brittney Griner’s release. Cherelle Griner and the Biden administration have said they remain committed to securing the release of Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia for spying.

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