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Experts debate impact of Obama’s marriage support

Examining social, political and legal implications of announcement



President Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality last week has been heralded as a milestone that inspired and exhilarated LGBT people throughout the country. Now, the practical implications of his words are being analyzed and debated by supporters.

LGBT advocates and political observers have different views on the social, political and legal ramifications of the announcement as they agreed that Obama becoming the first president to support marriage equality was historic in nature.

Richard Socarides, a gay New York attorney who advised former President Clinton on LGBT issues, said the cultural implications of Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage are substantial because it marks “a very positive” turning point on LGBT rights.

“I think having the president on record in favor of this goal is very important, and I think it will help shape the discussion that we’re having as a country about this, and I think it’ll help it in a very positive direction,” Socarides said.

Jeff Krehely of the Center for American Progress (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Jeff Krehely, vice president for LGBT programs at the Center for American Progress, said the social implications of Obama’s announcement are huge because the endorsement triggered conversations and additional support for marriage equality that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.

“That has a huge impact on the country on the issue, and the lives of gay people, too, who hear something that is very clear and very reassuring and very welcomed,” Krehely said.

Krehely noted Obama’s announcement inspired other noteworthy people — ranging from Democratic leaders like Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) to celebrities like Will Smith and Jay-Z — to voice their support for marriage equality.

“The president’s leadership matters, and we’re seeing that now in the number of people from a wide variety of backgrounds who are now also coming out with their support of marriage,” Krehely said. “I think more than anything, it has completely mainstreamed the issue.”

Questions remain about how Obama’s endorsement will impact states that are deciding the issue. In as many as four states this fall — Minnesota, Maine, Washington and Maryland — residents will vote on ballot initiatives related to same-sex marriage.

Krehely said Obama’s endorsement should have a positive impact.

“I think the president’s leadership on the issue has definitely mainstreamed it, and created a conversation in a lot of quarters that might not be having this conversation, and, I think, at the end of the day, that’s very good for the state fights and for DOMA repeal in Congress as well,” Krehely said.

During the interview in which he announced his support for same-sex marriage, Obama maintained the issue should be left to the states, saying, “I continue to believe that this is an issue that is gonna be worked out at the local level, because historically, this has not been a federal issue, what’s recognized as a marriage.”

The Obama campaign has previously weighed in against anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives in states like North Carolina and Minnesota. That took place even before the announcement in favor of same-sex marriage because Obama’s previous position was that he was opposed to discriminatory efforts directed at gay couples.

Should the LGBT community expect more Obama involvement in state battles? Will the president’s support for marriage equality mean he’ll speak out for the pro-marriage equality side in Maine, Maryland and Washington State?

These questions aren’t restricted to ballot initiatives, but also future legislative fights on same-sex marriage. In a state like Illinois, which could advance same-sex marriage legislation next year, would the voice of a president who represented the state in the U.S. Senate be helpful?

Krehely said it should be up to state organizations running the campaigns to determine if they want Obama’s voice and reach out to the White House if they deem that helpful, but said it may not be beneficial in some circumstances if they don’t want the president to “parachute” into the fray.

“I think, smartly, the White House could be hugely helpful in those state fights, and they weighed in on a number of the ballot campaigns even before his announcement, so I’m assuming that their appetite for doing that kind of state level work remains, if it’s not growing stronger,” Krehely said.

Socarides said the president should focus on winning the election — as well as picking up Democratic seats in Congress.

“It’s going to fall to us and to organizations in those states to wage successful campaigns in each of those places,” Socarides said. “I suspect that what the president has already done will be helpful, and there may be things he can do along the way, but winning those battles is primarily going to be our responsibility.”

Last week, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to say whether Obama would speak out on legislative and ballot fights over same-sex marriage when asked by a reporter during a press gaggle abroad Air Force One.

“I’m not going to speculate about what he may say or statements he might issue,” Carney said. “He has on occasion made his position known on actions by individual states, most recently in North Carolina, and I’m sure that continues to be the case. That will continue to be the case.”

Another lingering political question is whether Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage will benefit or jeopardize his chances for re-election when he goes up against presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who opposes same-sex marriage.

Backing marriage rights for gay couples may energize progressive and LGBT voters, but it remains to be seen how it will play out in battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Colorado.

Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, said he thinks the election will overwhelmingly be decided by the economy, but acknowledged some voters will factor same-sex marriage into their decision.

“Overall, I think the ‘red’ states got redder and the ‘blue’ states got bluer,” Sabato said. “Many Democrats are more committed to Obama as a result, and many Republican evangelical voters, who were unexcited about Romney before this, are now 100 percent committed to him — if only to oust Obama.”

In part because of the marriage issue, Sabato said some states that were once considered battlegrounds — Missouri, North Carolina and Indiana — are now quite likely in Romney’s column, but the decision might help Obama in the battleground states of New Hampshire and Colorado.

But Sabato said he’s basing his calculations on evangelical populations in those states and the money that Obama will likely raise from his announcement in favor of same-sex marriage will benefit him in the election.

“Perhaps Obama’s decision helps him raise many millions more, which are then used for TV ads to persuade swing state voters on the economy,” Sabato said. “The calculus is more complicated than it seems.”

According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll published Tuesday, Obama’s support for marriage equality is helping him and hurting him in equal measure — much like the country’s nearly even split for and against same-sex marriage. Thirty-one percent of Americans have a higher opinion of Obama because of his support while 30 percent view him less favorably, according to the poll.

Richard Socarides (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Socarides said the president’s endorsement of same-sex marriage will on the whole be positive because it fits well within Obama’s campaign theme of moving the country “forward.”

“He is a forward looking leader who, although deliberative, is willing to stake out policy positions that are forward leaning,” Socarides said. “I think to do otherwise would have really not been helpful. I think that you cannot position yourself as a forward-thinking leader when you have an extremely muddled position on one of the most important policy issues of the day.”

The impact of Obama’s endorsement will also likely be felt in the legal arena. The Justice Department stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act against challenges in court last year, and Obama said last week that his support of same-sex marriage was his personal view without talking too much about legal implications.

Some legal observers believe Obama’s announcement in favor of same-sex marriage could lead the administration to intervene on behalf of federal marriage equality lawsuits — particularly if that litigation reaches the Supreme Court.

The most high-profile of these cases in support of same-sex marriage is the Perry v. Brown lawsuit challenging California’s Proposition 8 that is pending before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Socarides expressed confidence that the Obama administration would intervene in a marriage equality case that reaches the Supreme Court, saying if the president supports same-sex marriage, it stands to reason marriage rights for gay couples are constitutionally protected.

“I’m optimistic that despite the president’s statement that he thinks the issue will be played out on the state level for a while, given everything that’s come before this, especially the Justice Department’s position in the DOMA cases, that the government will come into these cases at some point and being willing to assert a federal constitutional right to marriage equality,” Socarides said.

By this time next year, Socarides predicted the federal government would be on record in court that it believes the U.S. Constitution guarantees marriage equality and that the government will file friend-of-the-court briefs in those cases.

Douglas NeJaime, who’s gay and a law professor at Loyola Law School, said the Obama administration weighing in on a Supreme Court case wouldn’t necessarily have much impact.

“One could imagine that if a same-sex marriage case like Perry makes it up to the Supreme Court that the administration could weigh in,” NeJaime said. “That would be important, but there’s no reason that that would necessarily happen, nor that it would be particularly influential.”

NeJaime also said Obama’s support for same-sex marriage “has a huge rhetoric” that could influence the arguments of attorneys in court.

“It disables the anti same-sex marriage lawyers to some extent because they’ve been able to use what the president has said as a way to bolster the reasonableness of their position, and now that seems less plausible,” NeJaime said.



Ala. extends ban on transgender female athletes to universities

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed bill on Tuesday



Alabama Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday signed House Bill 261, which limits transgender students to playing sports in public colleges and universities only with “their biological sex assigned at birth.”

“Look, if you are a biological male, you are not going to be competing in women’s and girls’ sports in Alabama. It’s about fairness, plain and simple,”  said Ivey in a statement released by her office.

House Bill 261 was approved 26-4 in the Alabama Senate and 83-5 in the House of Representatives. In the vote in the House more than a dozen lawmakers abstained from the vote.

Ivey had previously signed legislation in 2021 banning trans female athletes from competing in K-12 girls sports. At the time she signed that bill the governor had noted that “Alabama remains committed to protecting female athletes at all levels and upholding the integrity of athletics.”

Carmarion D. Anderson-Harvey, Alabama state director of the Human Rights Campaign, said the legislation is part of a “systematic attack against LGBTQ+ people” in Alabama and elsewhere.

“In just two years, [Ivey] and extremist lawmakers in Alabama have passed four anti-LGBTQ+ bills. From dictating what bathrooms we can use to blatantly ignoring the actual problems in women’s sports, these politicians are making Alabama an increasingly hostile place for transgender people and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole,” Anderson-Harvey said.

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The White House

Biden condemns signing of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act

National Security Council ‘to evaluate’ law’s implications, U.S. engagement with country



President Joe Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Joe Biden on Monday condemned Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that the country’s president has signed.

“The enactment of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act is a tragic violation of universal human rights — one that is not worthy of the Ugandan people, and one that jeopardizes the prospects of critical economic growth for the entire country,” said Biden in his statement. “I join with people around the world — including many in Uganda — in calling for its immediate repeal. No one should have to live in constant fear for their life or being subjected to violence and discrimination. It is wrong.”

Biden notes “reports of violence and discrimination targeting Ugandans who are or are perceived to be LGBTQI+ are on the rise,” since MPs introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

“Innocent Ugandans now fear going to hospitals, clinics, or other establishments to receive life-saving medical care lest they be targeted by hateful reprisals. Some have been evicted from their homes or fired from their jobs. And the prospect of graver threats — including lengthy prison sentences, violence, abuse — threatens any number of Ugandans who want nothing more than to live their lives in safety and freedom,” said Biden.

“This shameful Act is the latest development in an alarming trend of human rights abuses and corruption in Uganda. The dangers posed by this democratic backsliding are a threat to everyone residing in Uganda, including U.S. government personnel, the staff of our implementing partners, tourists, members of the business community and others,” added Biden. 

The version of the Anti-Homosexuality Act that President Yoweri Museveni signed contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

Biden in his statement notes he has “directed my National Security Council to evaluate the implications of this law on all aspects of U.S. engagement with Uganda, including our ability to safely deliver services under the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and other forms of assistance and investments. My administration will also incorporate the impacts of the law into our review of Uganda’s eligibility for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).”  

“We are considering additional steps, including the application of sanctions and restriction of entry into the United States against anyone involved in serious human rights abuses or corruption,” he said.

Ugandan media reports indicate the U.S. has revoked Parliament Speaker Anita Among’s visa.

“The United States shares a deep and committed partnership with the people of Uganda. For more than 60 years, we have worked together to help millions of Ugandans live healthier, more productive lives,” said Biden in his statement. “Our programs have boosted economic growth and agricultural productivity, increased investments in Ugandan businesses, and strengthened our trade cooperation. In total, the U.S. government invests nearly $1 billion annually in Uganda’s people, business, institutions, and military to advance our common agenda. The scale of our commitments speaks to the value we place on this partnership — and our faith in the people of Uganda to build for themselves a better future. It is my sincere hope that we can continue to build on this progress, together and strengthen protections for the human rights of people everywhere.”

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Texas attorney general impeached, suspended pending outcome of Senate trial

Ken Paxton over the last decade has targeted LGBTQ people



The Texas House of Representatives voted to impeach state Attorney General Ken Paxton on May 27, 2023. (Photo by Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune)

Editor’s note: For the vast majority of the past 10 years the Texas attorney general has waged a relentless campaign to limit the rights and equality of LGBTQ Texans, especially transgender Texans. Today’s vote is significant in terms of the possibility that a Senate conviction would offer a potential respite from Paxton’s attacks on the LGBTQ community.

By  Zach Despart and James Barragan AUSTIN, Texas | In a history-making late-afternoon vote, a divided Texas House chose Saturday to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton, temporarily removing him from office over allegations of misconduct that included bribery and abuse of office.

The vote to adopt the 20 articles of impeachment was 121-23.

Attention next shifts to the Texas Senate, which will conduct a trial with senators acting as jurors and designated House members presenting their case as impeachment managers.

Permanently removing Paxton from office and barring him from holding future elected office in Texas would require the support of two-thirds of senators.

The move to impeach came less than a week after the House General Investigating Committee revealed that it was investigating Paxton for what members described as a yearslong pattern of misconduct and questionable actions that include bribery, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice. They presented the case against him Saturday, acknowledging the weight of their actions.

“Today is a very grim and difficult day for this House and for the state of Texas,” Rep. David Spiller (R-Jacksboro), a committee member, told House members.

“We have a duty and an obligation to protect the citizens of Texas from elected officials who abuse their office and their powers for personal gain,” Spiller said. “As a body, we should not be complicit in allowing that behavior.”

Paxton supporters criticized the impeachment proceedings as rushed, secretive and based on hearsay accounts of actions taken by Paxton, who was not given the opportunity to defend himself to the investigating committee.

“This process is indefensible,” said Rep. John Smithee (R-Amarillo), who complained that the vote was taking place on a holiday weekend before members had time to conduct a thorough review of the accusations. “It concerns me a lot because today it could be General Paxton, tomorrow it could be you and the next day it could be me.”

Saturday’s vote temporarily removes a controversial but influential Republican figure in Texas and nationally. He has led an office that initiated lawsuits that overturned or blocked major Biden and Obama administration policies, sought to reverse Trump’s electoral defeat in 2020, aggressively pursued voter fraud claims and targeted hospitals that provided gender care to minors.

The Legislature had impeached state officials just twice since 1876 — and never an attorney general — but the House committee members who proposed impeachment argued Saturday that Paxton’s misconduct in office was so egregious that it warranted his removal.

“This gentleman is no longer fit for service or for office,” said committee member Rep. Ann Johnson (D-Houston). “Either this is going to be the beginning of the end of his criminal reign, or God help us with the harms that will come to all Texans if he’s allowed to stay the top cop on the take, if millions of Texans can’t trust us to do the right thing, right here, right now.”

Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), a member of the investigative committee, used his presentation time to criticize Paxton for calling representatives as they worked on the House floor to “personally threaten them with political consequences in the next election” if they supported impeachment.

Speaking against impeachment, Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington), called the process “wrong.”

“Don’t end our session this way. Don’t tarnish this institution,” Tinderholt said. “Don’t cheapen the act of impeachment. Don’t undermine the will of the voters. Don’t give Democrats another victory handed to them on a silver platter.”

The vote came as hardline conservatives supportive of Paxton’s aggressive strategy of suing the Biden administration were lining up in support of him. Former President Donald Trump — a close political ally to Paxton — blasted the impeachment proceedings as an attempt to unseat “the most hard working and effective” attorney general and thwart the “large number of American Patriots” who voted for Paxton.

Trump vowed to target any Republican who voted to impeach Paxton.

As lawmakers listened to the committee members make their case, Paxton took to social media to boost conservatives who had come to his defense, including Trump, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and conservative radio host Grant Stinchfield, who tweeted, “Kangaroo Court in Texas.”

About 90 minutes into the debate, the official Twitter account of the Texas attorney general’s office began tweeting at members of the committee to challenge some of the claims being made.

“Please tell the truth,” the agency’s account said.

Because Paxton was impeached while the Legislature was in session, the Texas Constitution requires the Senate to remain in Austin after the regular session ends Monday or set a trial date for the future, with no deadline for a trial spelled out in the law.

Impeachment represents the greatest political threat to date for Paxton, who has been reelected twice despite a 2015 indictment for felony securities fraud and an ongoing federal investigation into allegations of official misconduct that began in 2020.

The impeachment vote, on the third-to-last day of the regular legislative session, capped a tumultuous week at the Capitol. From Tuesday to Thursday:

  • Paxton abruptly accused House Speaker Dade Phelan of presiding over the chamber while drunk and demanded that he resign.
  • The House General Investigating Committee revealed it had been investigating Paxton in secret since March.
  • The committee heard a three-hour presentation from its investigators detailing allegations of corruption against the attorney general.
  • The committee’s three Republicans and two Democrats voted to forward 20 articles of impeachment to the full House.

Paxton, who was comfortably elected to a third term last year, made a rare appearance before assembled reporters Friday to criticize the process, saying he was not given a chance to present favorable evidence. He called impeachment an effort by Democrats and “liberal” Republicans to remove him from office, violating the will of voters and sidelining an effective warrior against Biden administration policies.

“The corrupt politicians in the Texas House are demonstrating that blind loyalty to Speaker Dade Phelan is more important than upholding their oath of office,” Paxton said. He added, “They are showcasing their absolute contempt for the electoral process.”

Many of the articles of impeachment focused on allegations that Paxton had repeatedly abused his powers of office to help a political donor and friend, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.

In fall 2020, eight top deputies in the attorney general’s office approached federal and state investigators to report their concerns about Paxton’s relationship with Paul.

All eight quit or were fired in the following months, and most of the details of their allegations against Paxton were revealed in a lawsuit by four former executives who claim they were fired — in violation of the Texas Whistleblower Act — in retaliation for reporting Paxton to the authorities. Paxton’s bid to dismiss the lawsuit is awaiting action by the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals.

According to the lawsuit, the whistleblowers accused Paxton of engaging in a series of “intense and bizarre” actions to help Paul, including intervening in an open-records case to help Paul gain documents from federal and state investigations into the real estate investor’s businesses. They also accused Paxton of directing his agency to intervene in a lawsuit between Paul and a charity, pushing through a rushed legal opinion to help Paul avoid a pending foreclosure sale on properties and ignoring agency rules to hire an outside lawyer to pursue an investigation helpful to Paul’s businesses.

In return, the whistleblower lawsuit alleged, Paul paid for all or part of a major renovation of a home Paxton owns in Austin. Paul also helped Paxton keep an extramarital affair quiet by employing the woman Paxton had been seeing, the lawsuit said, adding that the attorney general may also have been motivated by a $25,000 contribution Paul made to Paxton’s campaign in 2018.

In their report to the House General Investigating Committee on Wednesday, the panel’s investigators concluded that Paxton may have committed numerous crimes and violated his oath of office.

Investigators said possible felonies included abuse of official capacity by, among other actions, diverting staff time to help Paul at a labor cost of at least $72,000; misuse of official information by possibly helping Paul gain access to investigative documents; and retaliation and official oppression by firing employees who complained of Paxton’s actions to the FBI.

The articles of impeachment accused Paxton of accepting bribes, disregarding his official duties and misapplying public resources to help Paul.

The articles also referred to felony charges of securities fraud, and one felony count of failing to register with state securities officials, that have been pending against Paxton since 2015, months after he took office as attorney general. The fraud charges stem from Paxton’s work in 2011 to solicit investors in Servergy Inc. without disclosing that the McKinney company was paying him for the work.

The impeachment articles also accused Paxton of obstruction of justice by acting to delay the criminal cases with legal challenges and because a Paxton donor pursued legal action that limited the pay to prosecutors in the case, causing further delays “to Paxton’s advantage.”

Taken in total, the accusations showed a pattern of dereliction of duty in violation of the Texas Constitution, Paxton’s oaths of office and state laws against public officials acting against the public’s interest, the impeachment resolution said.

“Paxton engaged in misconduct, private or public, of such character as to indicate his unfitness for office,” the articles said.

An attorney general had never before been impeached by the Legislature, an extraordinary step that lawmakers have reserved for public officials who faced serious allegations of misconduct. Only two Texas officials have been removed from office by Senate conviction, Gov. James Ferguson in 1917 and District Judge O.P. Carrillo in 1975.

If Paxton is to survive, he will need to secure the support of 11 senators. With the 12 Democratic senators likely to support his removal, votes for acquittal would need to come from the 19 Republican members.

None has publicly defended Paxton. In a television interview Thursday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, said merely that he believed senators would be responsible jurors and “do their duty.”

A complicating factor is Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney), Paxton’s wife. State law requires all senators to attend an impeachment trial, though whether she will recuse herself from voting is unclear.

Paxton’s political base lies in the far-right faction of the Republican Party, where he has positioned himself as a champion of conservative causes and a thorn in the side of Democratic President Joe Biden. Paxton has criticized his opponents as RINOs (Republicans in name only) who “want nothing more than to sabotage our legal challenges to Biden’s extremist agenda by taking me out.”

He also retained the backing of the state Republican Party, led by former state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, who frequently attacks Republicans he considers to be insufficiently conservative. On Friday, Rinadi said the impeachment was Phelan’s fault for allowing Democrats to have too much influence in the House.

“The impeachment proceedings against the Attorney General are but the latest front in the Texas House’s war against Republicans to stop the conservative direction of her state,” Rinaldi said in a statement.

Paxton also has maintained a close relationship with Trump and filed an unsuccessful U.S. Supreme Court challenge to the 2020 presidential election. Paxton also spoke at Trump’s rally on Jan. 6, 2021, shortly before the president’s supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol.



Zach Despart’s staff photo

Zach Despart

[email protected]


James Barragán’s staff photo

James Barragán

[email protected]



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


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