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RNC 2012: Romney pledges to ‘honor the institution of marriage’

GOP candidate accepts party’s nomination in convention speech

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GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney accepts his party’s nomination at the Republican National Convention (Blade photo by Michael Key)

TAMPA, Fla. — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney officially accepted his party’s nomination for president Thursday evening while pledging to “honor the institution of marriage” if elected.

During his speech before the Republican National Convention, Romney alluded to marriage in a brief portion of his speech that apparently was intended as a broader signal of support to social conservatives.

“As president, I will protect the sanctity of life,” Romney said. “I will honor the institution of marriage, and I will guarantee America’s first liberty: the freedom of religion.”

As with references to marriage in speeches earlier in the week from GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, Romney didn’t explicitly say that his vision for marriage excluded same-sex couples. But Romney’s opposition to marriage equality is well known, including his support for a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage throughout the country.

Romney’s reference to marriage could also be a knock against President Obama, who has come out in favor of marriage equality, dropped defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in court and advanced an array of pro-LGBT policies while in office.

But for the most part, Romney’s speech consisted of narrating personal accounts of his family and business career, laying out a basic vision for where he wants to take the country and criticizing Obama for his decision-making over the past three-and-a-half years.

Romney articulated a five-step plan that he said would create 12 million new jobs — although he offered few details for each of these steps in his proposal.

The plan involved 1) making America energy independent by 2020 through expanding oil, coal and gas and renewable domestic energy production; 2) giving parents the option of school choice and every child a chance in the education system; 3) forging new trade agreements and punishing countries that cheat in trade; 4) cutting the deficit to put the country on track to a balanced budget; and 5) encouraging small business growth by reducing taxes and regulations as well as repealing health care reform.

Romney also called out to voters who supported Obama in the 2008 election but had become disaffected with his presidency because of the stagnant economy, saying, “I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed. But his promises gave way to disappointment and division.”

“Tonight I’d ask a simple question: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama?” Romney said. “You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.”

In an apparent attempt to reach out to women voters, Romney noted that women are now more likely to start their own businesses and devoted a significant portion of his speech to talking about the important role his wife Ann Romney played in raising their family as well as the bid of his mother, Lenore Romney, to become a U.S. senator in 1970.

“I can still hear her saying in her beautiful voice, ‘Why should women have any less say than men, about the great decisions facing our nation?’ Romney said. “I wish she could have been here at the convention and heard leaders like Gov. Mary Fallin, Gov. Nikki Haley, Gov. Susana Martinez, Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.”

Republican National Convention attendees cheer Mitt Romney. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Delegates to the Republican convention and others on the floor were exuberant. Before taking the stage, Romney came out from the wings of the forum and shook hands with attendees standing near the aisle as if he were preparing for a State of the Union address while the audience chanted “Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!” Those in the audience held up signs saying, “Believe!” and “We Believe in America!”

David Rappel, a gay Republican delegate from Los Angeles, said Romney “did an amazing job” with his speech and predicted the candidate would eventually change his position on same-sex marriage.

“His speech was wonderful,” Rappel said. “The Republican Party will evolve just like Obama seemed to do. Nothing is done over night.”

Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of the gay conservative group GOProud, also praised Romney for his speech while touting that his organization is the only national LGBT group to endorse the candidate.

“Tonight, [Romney] reminded us of exactly why this endorsement was such an easy one for our organization,” LaSalvia said. “Simply put, Mitt Romney has the experience and vision necessary to lead our country, especially in these difficult economic times.”

In contrast, Jerame Davis, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, drew attention to Romney’s reference to marriage — in addition to anti-gay language in the Republican Party platform — as a reason why LGBT voters should be wary of his candidacy.

“Mitt Romney’s speech capped a bizarre and meandering GOP convention with shallow references to ‘defending’ or ‘honoring” marriage,” Davis said. “What they’re not saying in primetime is that this Romney-Ryan ticket comes with the most reactionary anti-LGBT platform in politics. Gay Republicans had to admit defeat in their attempts to moderate the GOP at this year’s convention; Democrats, however, have the most pro-LGBT platform and presidential candidate in history.”

But Romney’s wasn’t the only high-profile speech that was delivered on Thursday before the Republican National Convention. Other speakers included former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who talked about the need for choice in the education system and holding teachers accountable.

Sen. Marco Rubio (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) had the distinction of introducing Romney to attendees at the convention while articulating his own vision for the country in remarks that didn’t shy from religion.

“We are special because we’ve been united not by a common race or ethnicity,” Rubio said. “We’re bound together by common values. That family is the most important institution in society. That almighty God is the source of all we have.”

One prepared video included footage of Romney with his children as they were growing up in addition to his family life. One portion lampooned his frugality at home as one of his sons showed how he covered up an oversized lightbulb in the kitchen with duct tape.

But what immediately followed were remarks by actor and director Clint Eastwood, who, in addition to being a surprise guest at the convention, spoke without the aid of a teleprompter. In an apparent ad-lib, Eastwood spoke to an imaginary Obama seated in a chair next to him while questioning and criticizing him. The exchange was widely panned and seen as the most bizarre moment of the evening.

Personal remarks came from Romney’s son, Craig Romney, as well as others who’d worked with him in setting up the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, running Bain Capital and administrating the Commonwealth of Massachusetts during his tenure as governor.

Craig Romney delivered a portion of his remarks in Spanish, and another video played touting Republican Latino public officials, including pro-LGBT Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) — an apparent outreach to Hispanic voters.

Former Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, who served with Romney while he was governor, said based on the experience of working with Romney, he “won’t just talk about family values, he will live them.”

As governor of Massachusetts, such adherence to family values included opposition to a court ruling in 2003 that made the Bay State the first in the country to legalize same-sex marriage. Romney called for a state constitutional amendment overturning the decision. Additionally, Romney abolished a commission for LGBT youth, prompting state lawmakers to create a replacement panel in its stead.

Whether Romney’s speech will encourage more voters to support him as Election Day grows closer remains to be seen, although polls currently show him in a close race with Obama.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll published Thursday suggests the convention has given Romney a slight lead. Polling at the start of the week had Obama leading Romney 46-42, but on Thursday it showed Romney ahead of Obama 44-42.

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Federal Government

Department of Education to investigate Nex Benedict’s Okla. school district

Nonbinary student died last month after students assaulted them

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Nex Benedict (Family photo)

On Friday the U.S. Department of Education informed Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson that the department will open an investigation in response to HRC’s letter regarding Owasso Public Schools and its failure to respond appropriately to sex-based harassment that may have contributed to the death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary teenager of Choctaw heritage. 

This investigation was triggered by a formal complaint made last week by Robinson, who wrote to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and asked his department to use the enforcement mechanisms at its disposal to prevent similar tragedies from taking place in the future and to help hold accountable those responsible for Benedict’s death.

The letter from the Department of Education reads: “the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), is opening for investigation the above-referenced complaint that you filed against the Owasso Public Schools (the District.) Your complaint alleges that the District discriminated against students by failing to respond appropriately to sex-based harassment, of which it had notice, at Owasso High School during the 2023-2024 school year,” said Robinson.

“Nex’s family, community and the broader 2SLGBTQI+ (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex+) community in Oklahoma are still awaiting answers following their tragic loss. We appreciate the Department of Education responding to our complaint and opening an investigation — we need them to act urgently so there can be justice for Nex, and so that all students at Owasso High School and every school in Oklahoma can be safe from bullying, harassment and discrimination,” Robinson added.

According to the letter, OCR is opening the following issues for investigation:

  • Whether the District failed to appropriately respond to alleged harassment of students in a manner consistent with the requirements of Title IX.
  • Whether the District failed to appropriately respond to alleged harassment of students in a manner consistent with the requirements of Section 504 and Title II.

HRC sent a second letter to the Department asking it to promptly begin an investigation into the Oklahoma State Department of Education, as well as the current State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Ryan Walters. In addition:

  • Robinson wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the Department of Justice to begin an investigation into Nex’s death.
  • Robinson wrote to Dr. Margaret Coates, superintendent of the Owasso School District in Oklahoma, calling for the superintendent to take advantage of HRC’s Welcoming Schools program — the most comprehensive bias-based bullying prevention program in the nation to provide LGBTQ and gender inclusive training and resources — and offering to bring experts to the district immediately.

The full text of the letter from the Department of Education in response to HRC can be found here.

The full text of the initial letter from Robinson to Cardona can be found here.

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District of Columbia

Judy and Dennis Shepard discuss Nex Benedict, anti-LGBTQ laws at DC event

Nonbinary Okla. high school student died last month after fight

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Dennis and Judy Shephard speak at the Raben Group’s D.C. offices on Feb. 29, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Amber Laenen)

Judy and Dennis Shepard on Thursday reflected on Nex Benedict’s death and the proliferation of anti-LGBTQ laws across the country during a discussion the Raben Group hosted at their D.C. office.

The discussion, which MSNBC host Jonathan Capehart moderated, took place less than a month after Benedict died.

Benedict, who was nonbinary, passed away on Feb. 8 after students at their high school in Owasso, Okla., assaulted them in a bathroom. 

Vice President Kamala Harris, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt are among those who have publicly responded to Benedict’s death, which took place after they endured months of bullying. More than 300 advocacy groups have demanded Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters’ removal and called for a federal investigation into the Oklahoma Department of Education’s “actions and policies” that have facilitated a “culture where rampant harassment of 2SLGBTQI+ students has been allowed to go unchecked.”

“Parents are doing whatever they can to protect and encourage and support kids, and you have these what I call evil, evil people around the country pushing these laws,” said Dennis Shepard.

He noted lawmakers around the country are pushing anti-LGBTQ laws and other efforts that include the elimination of diversity, equity and inclusion programs. Dennis Shepard also highlighted an effort to defund gender studies programs at the University of Wyoming.

“[It is] the old white male, Christian geezers who want to go back to the days of the 50s when they had that superior arrogant attitude,” he said. “They’re losing it and they don’t want to, so they’re passing everything they can.”

“What happened to Nex is a result of that,” added Dennis Shepard. “They feel like Henderson and McKinney felt when they took Matt out on the prairie.”

Matthew Shepard died on Oct. 12, 1998, after Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney brutally beat him and left him tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyo. Then-President Barack Obama in 2009 signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which added sexual orientation and gender identity to the federal hate crimes law.

“If you’re considered different, you’re in fear of your life right now because you don’t fit in and it’s got to stop,” said Dennis Shepard.

Judy Shepard echoed her husband, noting this moment is “the last gasp of the fight against the community.” 

“In my heart, I know this is a moment in time, and it’s going to pass. But also in that time, all these young people, everyone in the community is afraid, but young people are being terrorized,” she said. “It just shouldn’t be happening.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

N.Y. AG joins multi-state brief in Colo. anti-trans discrimination case

Letitia James and 18 other attorneys general support plaintiff

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trans health care, gay news, Washington Blade
New York Attorney General Letitia James (Photo public domain)

New York Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday joined a brief by 18 other Democratic state attorneys general urging the Colorado Supreme Court to uphold a lower court ruling against Masterpiece Cakeshop for anti-trans discrimination.

A customer, Autumn Scardina, sued the business over claims that it refused to provide her a cake upon learning that it was for a celebration of her transition. The case is not the first in which owner Jack Smith has faced claims of anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

In 2012, Masterpiece Cakeshop refused to fulfill an order for a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, which led to the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission — and a narrow ruling that did not address core legal questions weighing the constitutionality of First Amendment claims vis-a-vis the government’s enforcement of LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination laws.

“Denying service to someone simply because of who they are is illegal discrimination, plain and simple,” James said in a press release. “Allowing this kind of behavior would undermine our nation’s fundamental values of freedom and equality and set a dangerous precedent.”

She added, “I am proud to stand with my fellow attorneys general against this blatant transphobic discrimination.”

The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Scardina, noting that Smith objected to fulfilling her cake order only after learning about her intended use for it “and that Phillips did not believe the cake itself expressed any inherent message.”

The fact pattern in both cases against Masterpiece Cakeshop resembles that of another case that originated in Colorado and was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court last year, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis.

This time, the justices did not sidestep the question of whether the state’s anti-discrimination law can be enforced against a business owner, Lorie Smith, a website designer who claimed religious protections for her refusal to provide services to a same-sex couple for their nuptials.

The court’s conservative supermajority ruled in favor of Smith, which was widely seen as a blow to LGBTQ rights.

Joining James in her brief are the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai’i, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and D.C.

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