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House votes to ban same-sex weddings on military bases

GOP-controlled chamber approves King amendment by 247-166 vote

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Rep. Steve King (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. House approved on Thursday an amendment that aims to bar same-sex wedding ceremonies from taking place on military bases — although LGBT groups are denying the measure will have any legal impact.

The amendment, introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa,) was approved 247-166 as part of major $608 billion Pentagon budget legislation known as the fiscal year 2013 defense appropriations bill. The House on the same day approved the legislation as a whole by 247-167.

In a floor speech offering the amendment, King, who has reputation for being anti-gay, said the amendment was necessary because the Pentagon is allowing same-sex weddings to take place on military bases and chaplains to officiate over these ceremonies despite the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

“This same-sex marriage that has been taking place on our military bases, where otherwise legal around the world, contravenes the Defense of Marriage Act,” King said. “The Defense of Marriage Act means this, actually says specifically this: marriage means only a legal union between one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and the word spouse refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife. Pretty simple statute being contravened by the directives of the President of the United States as exercised through the secretary of defense.”

The Pentagon issued guidance shortly after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal went into effect giving the OK to same-sex wedding ceremonies on military bases and allowing chaplains to participate in them if they so choose. The guidance states the military facilities should be used on a “sexual-orientation basis” and military chaplains may officiate over same-sex weddings, but aren’t required to do so if that’s contrary to their religious briefs.

Also on the House floor, King knocked Obama for coming out in favor of same-sex marriage, suggesting Obama’s new position is what makes him believe the administration can circumvent DOMA to allow same-sex weddings on military bases — even though Obama announced support for same-sex marriage more than a year after the Pentagon issued its guidance.

“The President has now stepped out and said that he supports same-sex marriage in the United States,” King said. “That is, apparently, the most recent evolution of his position. But an evolving position of the President of the United States cannot be allowed to contravene the will of the people of the United States, as expressed through the statutes of the United States and as signed by previous President Bill Clinton in September of 1996.”

Five Republicans voted against the amendment: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) and Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.). But 17 Democrats voted in favor of the measure: Reps. John Barrow (D-Ga.), Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), Ben Chandler (D-Ky.), Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), Mark Critz (D-Pa.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Gene Green (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.), Miss Ross (D-Ark.) and Health Shuler (D-N.C.).

Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.), ranking Democrat on the House appropriations committee and House defense subcommittee, spoke out against the King amendment on the floor, saying he believes lawmakers should discuss DOMA, but in terms of the negative impact it has on gay service members.

“As the gentleman knows, the Defense of Marriage Act is already current law,” Dicks said. “Despite the successful repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ last year under DOMA, same-sex military spouses are not entitled to the same benefits as other married couples. This amendment only seeks to divide this House. He knows that current law already prohibits same-sex spouses from independently shopping at military commissaries, using base gyms, or benefiting from subsidized dental and health care.”

LGBT advocacy expressed indignation over the passage of the amendment, but said the measure would have no impact because federal funds are already not used in violation of DOMA.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said King’s amendment would do “nothing new.”

“No funds can ever be spent in contravention of federal law,” Sarvis said. “With this amendment, the Congressman is wasting Congress’ time and energy by restating current law in an attempt to infringe upon the rights of chaplains to practice their own faith and relegate gay and lesbian service members to second-class status by restricting their use of military facilities.”

Sarvis added DOMA has no impact on whether same-sex weddings can take place on military bases or whether chaplains can officiate over them.

“If the congressman wants a debate about the inequalities thrust upon America’s gay and lesbian service members by DOMA, let’s have that debate,” Sarvis said. “But perhaps, he should first undertake a review of the law and come to the debate prepared.”

Prior to passage of the amendment, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote a letter dated July 19 to House members urging them to vote “no” on the measure, saying it’s “both unnecessary and redundant.” The letter is signed by Ian Thompson, the ACLU’s legislative representative, and Laura Murphy, director of the Washington legislative office.

“While there are multiple legal challenges to DOMA working their way through the federal courts, it is still the law of the land,” Thompson and Murphy write. “The Department of Defense, like all federal agencies, is bound to uphold the law. The King Amendment serves absolutely no purpose other than to score election year political points at the expense of gay and lesbian couples and their families.”

It’s the not the first time the House has reaffirmed DOMA since Republicans have taken control of the chamber. On the same day that Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, the House approved a measure by freshman Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) stating no U.S. government funds should be used in violation of DOMA. Last year, the House approved another amendment from Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) reaffirming DOMA as part of defense appropriations legislation.

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State Department

Blinken: PEPFAR ‘shows us what American diplomacy can do’

Secretary of state spoke at World AIDS Day event in D.C. on Friday

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a World AIDS Day event at the Hay-Adams Hotel in D.C. on Dec. 2, 2022. (Screen capture via U.S. Department of State YouTube)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday noted the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has saved more than 25 million lives since its launch in 2003.

Blinken, who spoke at the Business Council for International Understanding’s World AIDS Day event at the Hay-Adams Hotel in D.C., said the more than $100 billion the U.S. has earmarked for PEPFAR over the last two decades has funded 70,000 new community health clinics, 3,000 new laboratories and the hiring of 340,000 health care workers.

“Entire public health systems formed, with over a dozen countries which have either reached their HIV-treatment goals or managed control of the virus altogether,” said Blinken.

Then-President George W. Bush in 2003 signed legislation that created PEPFAR. California Democrat Barbara Lee, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief White House medical advisor who is retiring at the end of this month, are among those who played a key role in PEPFAR’s creation.

“PEPFAR has benefitted from bipartisan support, as we’ve heard, across four presidencies, across ten Congresses,” said Blinken. “It’s resulted in an investment of more than $100 billion to the global HIV/AIDS response. This is the largest commitment by one country ever to address a single disease.”

Lee and Fauci were among those who attended the event alongside U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator John Nkengasong; Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine; Dr. Deborah Birx, the former White House Coronavirus Response Director, and HIV and Hepatitis Policy Institute Executive Director Carl Schmid.

Blinken in his speech noted “the systems put in place by PEPFAR have become an integral part of the health security architecture of countries around the world.”

Blinken also said PEPFAR has bolstered responses to COVID-19, Ebola and the avian flu.

“We are continuing to build on PEPFAR’s many successes to create a stronger global health security architecture to prevent, to detect, to respond to future health emergencies. Doctor Fauci, you once said that PEPFAR ‘shows what the goodwill of a nation can do,’ and you were right,” said Blinken. “PEPFAR also shows us what American diplomacy can do: Bring together governments, bring together the public and private sectors, communities to tackle challenges that none of us can actually effectively deal with alone and that creates and has created a healthier, safer and ultimately more secure world.” 

Five-year PEPFAR strategy to target LGBTQ people

Blinken acknowledged there is still “very serious work still required for us to end the global HIV health epidemic by 2030,” noting HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately impact LGBTQ and intersex people and other marginalized groups.

“Too many countries still have fragile and insufficiently resourced public health systems, which makes it difficult to offer services beyond HIV/AIDS treatments, and that undercuts our capacity to respond to emerging threats,” he said.

Blinken noted the U.S. on Thursday announced a new PEPFAR strategy that will help “fill those gaps” over the next five years. It includes the following:

• Targeted programming to help reduce inequalities among LGBTQ and intersex people, women and girls and other marginalized groups

• Partnerships with local organizations to help reach “hard-to-reach” communities.

• Economic development and increased access to financial markets to allow countries to manufacture their own antiretroviral drugs, tests and personal protective gear to give them “the capacity to meet their own challenges so that they’re not dependent on anyone else.”

“This latest PEPFAR strategy will keep making advancements like that possible so that millions more people can live healthy lives and live lives to their full potential,” said Blinken. 

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Congress

Hakeem Jeffries makes history with appointment to lead House Democrats

Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, an LGBTQ ally, will become the first Black lawmaker of either party to serve in the top spot of either of the two chambers of Congress

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Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) (Photo public domain)

With his election on Wednesday to take over as House Democratic minority leader next year, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) became the first-ever Black lawmaker from either party who will serve in that role in either of the two chambers of Congress.

House Democrats also chose, for the second and third-highest ranking positions, Reps. Katherine Clark (Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (Caif.). All ran unopposed and rather than by formal ballots were elected by voice vote for unanimous consent.

The moves signaled broad consensus among House Democrats in their decision to send the new slate of lawmakers, young and diverse with some progressive bona fides, to serve in the party’s senior leadership positions.

The three lawmakers are all members of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus and longtime allies of the community. Jeffries, as chair of the House Democratic Caucus, introduced the Respect for Marriage Act in the House this summer.

The Caucus declined to comment on the House Democratic leadership elections.

When Aguilar succeeds Jeffries in that role next year, it will be the highest-ranking position in House leadership ever held by a Latino member. Clark, meanwhile, will become the second woman to serve as Democratic House Whip after Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the current House Speaker.

Pelosi announced on Nov. 18 her plans to step down from House Democratic leadership after the next Congress is seated. She made history in 2001 as the first woman elected to the second highest-ranking position in the chamber, and then again in 2007 when she took the top slot, becoming the first woman Speaker of the House.

Following her announcement, Pelosi was celebrated for her many legislative accomplishments at the top of her party’s caucus, where she served for two decades under four presidents. A Washington Post column called Pelosi the “best speaker in U.S. history.”

Considering that Pelosi also presided over some of the biggest legislative milestones in the modern LGBTQ rights movement, such as the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Jeffries has a high bar to clear when he’s handed the torch in January.

In addition to his leadership on the Respect for Marriage Act, Jeffries has been a major advocate in Congress for other pro-LGBTQ pieces of legislation like the Equality Act and, in 2014, the Hate Crime Reporting Act.

Jeffries has been a vocal champion of measures to make the U.S. Capitol more welcoming for transgender and gender nonconforming people – such as by calling for single-occupancy gender-neutral restrooms on the Hill and rules that would adopt gender-neutral language in the House.

He has also spoken out forcefully against anti-LGBTQ hate from some members of the House Republican caucus, such as the dangerous rhetoric from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who has repeatedly tried to link queer people to child sexual abuse.

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National

Homeland Security says more attacks against LGBTQ people are possible

Gunman killed five people at ClubQ in Colo. on Nov. 19

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(Public domain photo)

The Department of Homeland Security issued a terror threat bulletin Wednesday warning that domestic extremists have posted online praise for the fatal shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado earlier this month. and have called for copycat attacks.

In its bulletin, Homeland Security officials noted that several recent attacks, plots and threats of violence demonstrate the continued dynamic and complex nature of the threat environment in the U.S:

“Some domestic violent extremists who have conducted attacks have cited previous attacks and attackers as inspiration. Following the late November shooting at an LGBTQI+ bar in Colorado Springs, Colorado — which remains under investigation — we have observed actors on forums known to post racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist content praising the alleged attacker. Similarly, some domestic violent extremists in the United States praised an October 2022 shooting at a LGBTQI+ bar in Slovakia and encouraged additional violence. The attacker in Slovakia posted a manifesto online espousing white supremacist beliefs and his admiration for prior attackers, including some within the United States,” Homeland Security warned.

Homeland Security also asked that Americans report potential threats:

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