A Republican congresswoman from Florida known for holding pro-LGBT views said earlier this week she supports marriage equality, making her the first GOP member of Congress to hold that view.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the only Republican co-sponsor of legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, confirmed on Tuesday she supports same-sex marriage after remarks she delivered at the launch of Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry at the Capitol Hill Club in D.C.
Asked by the Washington Blade whether she’s a supporter of same-sex marriage in addition to backing DOMA repeal, Ros-Lehtinen initially expressed confusion about why the question was being asked, saying, “I don’t know why you’re asking that. It’s such a weird way.” But she later affirmed she’s a supporter of marriage equality.
“Oh, yeah, I am,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “I thought you were trying to get some tricky thing here. No I am.”
Her office did not respond to Blade inquiries following up on the remarks. Ros-Lehtinen’s decision to co-sponsor the DOMA repeal legislation, the Respect for Marriage Act, received significant media attention when she signed on in support in September. But supporting DOMA repeal isn’t the same as supporting marriage equality.
Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, commended Ros-Lehtinen for speaking out in favor of marriage equality and said it would help other Republicans do the same.
“Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is a champion in the fight for full LGBT equality,” Cole-Schwartz said. “Her willingness to be a leader in the Republican Party on LGBT issues, including becoming the first Republican member of Congress to embrace marriage equality, is opening the way for other Republican officials to speak out.”
While holding pro-LGBT views, Ros-Lehtinen endorsed presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney early on. Romney has endorsed a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and has pledged to resume defense of DOMA in court.
Speaking to the Blade, Ros-Lehtinen said she backs Romney because of his positions on economic issues while acknowledging the two may hold differing positions on other issues.
“Well, I support him because of his views on the business issues and the economy,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “There are a lot of issues in which I disagree with Mitt Romney, but there are a lot of issues in which I disagree with members of my family. But I love them all the same.”
Ros-Lehtinen has suggested before that she favors marriage equality, although whether she personally identified as a supporter of same-sex marriage is less than clear.
In September 2011 remarks before Log Cabin Republicans political action committee prior to organization’s annual dinner, she commended New York lawmakers for passing marriage equality, saying, “As Republicans, we are committed to ensure that the federal government play its proper role. Defining marriage is not part of that role.”
At the time she announced her co-sponsorship of DOMA repeal, Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement, “I’m pleased to join the Log Cabin Republicans in our fight for marriage equality.”
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of National Log Cabin Republicans, offered remarks on Ros-Lehtinen’s support of marriage equality that were similar to what he said when she signed on as a co-sponsor of DOMA repeal.
“Marriage is a fundamental right of all Americans,” Cooper said. “The so-called Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) is an offense to the core conservative principles of liberty and federalism. It has been repudiated by its author, former Congressman Bob Barr, and is rejected by a growing majority of Americans, including conservative voters. It is time that our law respected all marriages. There is much work to be done to make that dream a reality, but with Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen’s leadership, the freedom to marry for all American is on the horizon.”
A transcript of the exchange between the Washington Blade and Ros-Lehtinen follows:
Washington Blade: Just to be clear, are you a supporter of same-sex marriage?
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: Well, I co-sponsored the repeal of DOMA.
Blade: But does that make you a supporter of same-sex marriage?
Ros-Lehtinen: I don’t know why you’re asking that. It’s such a weird way.
Blade: President Obama for a long time didn’t support same-sex marriage, but supported DOMA repeal.
Ros-Lehtinen: Oh, yeah. I am. I thought you were trying to get some tricky thing here. No I am.
Blade: We’re in the midst of a presidential election. You endorsed Mitt Romney early in the primary. Do you think he’ll be a friend to the LGBT community?
Ros-Lehtinen: Well I support him because of his views on the business issues and the economy. There are a lot of issues in which I disagree with Mitt Romney, but there are a lot of issues in which I disagree with members of my family. But I love them all the same.
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Lesbian mother from El Salvador released from ICE custody
Jessica Barahona-Martinez arrested on June 26, 2017
A federal judge last week ordered the release of a lesbian mother from El Salvador who had been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since June 2017.
Jessica Patricia Barahona-Martinez and her three children entered the U.S. on May 31, 2016. A court filing notes she fled “persecution she faced in El Salvador as a lesbian, and because the government had falsely identified her as a gang member.”
Barahona-Martinez lived with her sister and other relatives in Woodbridge, Va., until ICE arrested and detained her on June 26, 2017. She was housed at two ICE detention centers in Virginia until her transfer to the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center, a privately-run facility the GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates in Basile, La., in October 2020.
An immigration judge in November 2019 granted Barahona-Martinez asylum for the second time. The government appealed the decision and the Board of Immigration Appeals, which the Justice Department oversees, ruled in their favor.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana last month filed a writ for habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana’s Lafayette Division that asked for Barahona-Martinez’s release. U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty on Sept. 27 ruled in her favor.
“Petitioner (Barahona-Martinez) ultimately argues that her prolonged detention violates due process; she moves that this court issues a temporary restraining order, requests release, a bond hearing, an expedited hearing and costs and attorney fees,” wrote Doughty.
“This court finds that petitioner has plausibly alleged her prolonged detention violates due process,” added Doughty.
An ACLU spokesperson on Monday told the Blade that ICE has released Barahona-Martinez and she is once again in Virginia with her children and sister.
State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world
Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs
The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.
Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.
• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia
• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights
• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda
• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK
• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.
Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.
Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.
More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.
“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.
Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.
“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”
The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.
Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.
Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth.
A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.
Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”
“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”
The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.
Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.
Federal government prepares for looming shutdown
White House warns of ‘damaging impacts across the country’
However remote they were on Monday, odds of avoiding a government shutdown were narrowed by Thursday evening as House Republicans continued debate over their hyper-partisan appropriations bills that stand no chance of passage by the Upper Chamber.
As lawmakers in the Democratic controlled Senate forged ahead with a bipartisan stop-gap spending measure that House GOP leadership had vowed to reject, the federal government began bracing for operations to grind to a halt on October 1.
This would mean hundreds of thousands of workers are furloughed as more than 100 agencies from the State Department to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation roll out contingency plans maintained by the White House Office of Management and Budget. On Thursday the Office of Personnel Management sent out memos to all agencies instructing them to ready for a shutdown on Sunday.
Before 1980, operations would continue per usual in cases where Congress failed to break an impasse over spending, as lapses in funding tended to last only a few days before lawmakers brokered a deal.
Since then, the government has shut down more than a dozen times and the duration has tended to become longer and longer.
“Across the United States, local news outlets are reporting on the harmful impacts a potential government shutdown would have on American families,” the White House wrote in a release on Thursday featuring a roundup of reporting on how the public might be affected.
“With just days left before the end of the fiscal year, extreme House Republicans are playing partisan games with peoples’ lives and marching our country toward a government shutdown that would have damaging impacts across the country,” the White House said.
The nature and extent of that damage will depend on factors including how long the impasse lasts, but the Biden-Harris administration has warned of some consequences the American public is likely to face.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, for example, warned: “There is no good time for a government shutdown, but this is a particularly bad time for a government shutdown, especially when it comes to transportation.”
Amid the shortage of air traffic controllers and efforts to modernize aviation technology to mitigate flight delays and cancellations, a government shutdown threatens to “make air travel even worse,” as Business Insider wrote in a headline Thursday.
Democratic lawmakers including California Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters, meanwhile, have sounded the alarm in recent weeks over the consequences for the global fight against AIDS amid the looming expiration, on Oct. 1, of funding for PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.