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Will Obama, Romney talk marriage in upcoming debate?

Issue not as prominent in campaign as 2004, 2008

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President Obama (right) and Mitt Romney are set to square off on domestic issues at next week's debate in Denver (Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama and Mitt Romney are set to square off on domestic issues at next week’s debate in Denver. (Blade photos by Michael Key)

Next week’s presidential debate could mark the first opportunity for President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to face off on marriage in a race in which LGBT issues have figured less prominently than previous elections.

The debate — the first in a series of three for the presidential candidates — is set to take place on Wednesday at the University of Denver. The topic for the 90-minute debate is domestic policy, and LGBT issues and marriage equality would fall under that umbrella.

The moderator of the debate is Jim Lehrer, the executive editor and former news anchor for PBS NewsHour. It’s unclear if he’ll ask a question on LGBT rights or marriage at the debate. But a question on LGBT rights could create an opportunity for Obama, who endorsed same-sex marriage in May, to attack Romney for not only opposing marriage rights for gay couples, but supporting a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said if a marriage question was posed to the candidates during the debate, he’d like to hear Obama “repeat the same heartfelt personal explanation” that he offered in May when he announced he completed his evolution in support of marriage equality.

“And I’d like him to point out that just as it was wrong to deny couples of different races — like his parents — the freedom to marry, so under our Constitution, it is wrong to exclude couples of the same sex from the commitment of marriage and the freedom to marry under the law,” Wolfson said.

Even though marriage will be on the ballot in four states and lawsuits are pending before the Supreme Court that would overturn the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, both candidates have remained largely silent on marriage and other social issues and have focused more on the economy and national security.

Crosby Burns, a research associate on LGBT issues at the Center for American Progress, said the two candidates’ differing views on marriage could “not be more stark.”

“You have Mitt Romney who supports a Federal Marriage Amendment that would define marriage as the union between one man and one woman,” Burns said. “And Barack Obama, on the other hand, as you know has come out in May in favor of full marriage equality. If he’s asked a question at next week’s debate in Denver, I fully expect him to reiterate his unyielding support for marriage equality.”

But Dan Pinello, who’s gay and a political scientist at City University of New York, predicted that if the candidates are asked a marriage question during the debate, they would give “very abbreviated answers” because neither Obama nor Romney sees political gain by elevating the issue of marriage.

“If Jim Lehrer does say something about it, I think Mitt Romney will say this is an issue the states have to decide — nothing a president will have any authority over, but a state issue,” Pinello said. “I think Barack Obama, if he’s forced to address it, will say what he’s said before: it’s a personal issue … whatever he said a few months ago. But they’ll try to step around the issue as much as they can.”

Circumstances were much different in the recent past. Just two presidential elections ago, when Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) was running against then-President George W. Bush for the White House, the issue of marriage was a cornerstone of the Republican campaign at a time when 13 marriage amendments were on the ballot in states throughout the country.

In his 2004 State of the Union address, Bush said the country “must defend the sanctity of marriage” by passing a Federal Marriage Amendment to prevent “activist judges” from instituting same-sex marriage in their states. Asked about the issue on the campaign trail, Kerry would uncomfortably say he believes marriage is one man, one woman, but doesn’t think the U.S. Constitution should be involved.

Four years later, the issue of same-sex marriage figured less prominently in the contest between then-Democratic candidate Obama and Republican nominee John McCain. It came up during a forum hosted by Pastor Rick Warren of California’s Saddleback Church, when McCain said he thinks marriage should be left to the states, but would support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage if his home state of Arizona were forced to recognize it. Obama also said he believed marriage is between one man, one woman because “God’s in the mix” — a position he has since changed — as he declined to support a Federal Marriage Amendment.

Warren isn’t even hosting the forum during this presidential election. In August, Warren announced he was pulling the plug on a similar event with Obama and Romney because of what Warren perceived as the uncivil discourse of both campaigns.

Pinello attributed the change in prominence of the issue of same-sex marriage to change in public opinion, saying eight years ago people were “very much” against marriage equality, but today a bare majority of the American public supports it.

“The Democrats don’t want to energize the social conservatives to go to the polls, and Romney doesn’t want to turn off moderates by appearing too harsh on social issues,” Pinello said.

Polls show a distinct change in position on same-sex marriage over the course of the last few election cycles. A report published in April by the Pew Research Center indicates a growing evolution in public opinion. In 2004, 60 percent of the American public opposed same-sex marriage while 31 percent supported it. Those figures changed in 2008 from 51 percent opposing it and 39 percent supporting it. This year, the report found the numbers had switched: 47 percent of people back marriage equality, while 43 percent oppose it.

In the past week, discussion of LGBT issues on the Republican side has come not from Romney, but his No. 2 on the ticket: Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. In an interview over the weekend with ABC affiliate WPTV in Florida, Ryan said when asked if he believes the military should return to the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that the law shouldn’t be reinstated and “this issue is past us.”

“I talked to a lot of good friends of mine who are combat leaders in the theater, and they just didn’t think the timing of this was right to do this when our troops were in the middle of harm’s way in combat,” said Ryan. “Now that it’s done, we should not reverse it. I think that would be a step in the wrong direction because people have already disclosed themselves.”

On Tuesday, Ryan reiterated his opposition to marriage equality, saying “traditional marriage” is among the shared “universal human values,” even though same-sex marriage is legal in six states and D.C. and recognized in 11 countries. Ryan praised Romney at the Values Voter Summit earlier this month, as a “defender of marriage.”

The exception to the general lack of discussing LGBT issues came at the national conventions. At the Democratic National Convention, speakers weren’t shy about talking about their support for marriage equality. A video was played highlighting Obama’s support for it, and during his nomination acceptance speech Obama criticized “Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry.”

Marriage references were more limited at the Republican convention, but the subject did come up, notably by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who criticized Obama for his support for “changing the definition of marriage” while still identifying as an evangelical Christian. In his nomination acceptance speech, Romney pledged to “honor the institution of marriage.”

Burns said the emphasis on the issue of marriage at the Democratic convention shows the party has grown to embrace it after being uncomfortable with the issue in years past.

“Every single speech that I heard almost in some way, shape or form — especially among the headliners — brought up gay and lesbian couples,” Burns said. “If you have the party leaders at the DNC convention touting their support for LGBT people, I think that’s indicative of the black and white differences between early elections and now where we have a party fully embracing LGBT equality rather than a lukewarm acceptance that you saw beforehand.”

One game changer for the election in terms of marriage could be the results of what happens with pending litigation before the Supreme Court challenging Prop 8. In the weeks remaining before Election Day, justices could decline to hear the case, allowing same-sex marriage to return to California immediately as soon as a mandate is issued from the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Romney, who has supported Prop 8, may decide to incorporate that outcome as part of his campaign.

But Pinello predicted the level of attention to marriage would remain the same even if same-sex marriage were to resume in California because gay couples are already marrying in other places within the United States.

“There’s nothing new about that,” Pinello said. “It’s happening in six or seven other jurisdictions presently. It already did happen in California with 18,000 couples in 2008. So, there’s really nothing new about that and I don’t see that having much of an impact other than very short-term coverage.”

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CDC echoes call for MSM to limit sex partners in monkeypox guidance

Controversial guidance also issued by WHO

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CDC is calling on men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention is now echoing the controversial call for men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners amid the monkeypox outbreak.

The agency made the call as part of new comprehensive monkeypox guidance issued on Friday, which lists “limit your number of sex partners to reduce your likelihood of exposure” as among several ways to reduce risk, with vaccination at the top of the list.

Vaccination is an important tool in preventing the spread of monkeypox,” the guidance says. “But given the current limited supply of vaccine, consider temporarily changing some behaviors that may increase your risk of being exposed. These temporary changes will help slow the spread of monkeypox until vaccine supply is adequate.”

The call to limit partners was previously made by the World Health Organization and has been controversial as observers say it may stigmatize sex among gay and bisexual men, who are disproportionately affected by monkeypox.

Demetre Daskalakis, deputy director of the White House task force on monkeypox, outlined the new guidance on Friday in a conference call with reporters.

Asked by the Washington Blade whether the Biden administration agrees with WHO about the need for men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners, Daskalakis alluded to the multi-faceted aspects of the CDC guidance.

“It mentions that folks should consider reducing multiple partners and anonymous new partners as one strategy to prevent exposure to monkeypox,” Daskalakis said. “So I think really, there’s a broad range, and I think one of the things that’s really important about the CDC guidance is it’s designed to really meet people where they are and see what we can do to have individuals to create their own prevention plans, understanding that there’s not one answer for preventing monkeypox, that it requires a lot of domains to really achieve the goal of preventing new infections.”

Vaccinations for monkeypox are a key component of the CDC guidance, even though the limited availability has not kept up with the growing demand for the shots as the outbreak continues. Daskalakis conceded on the call there is “supply and demand mismatch” for vaccines, but maintained the Department of Health & Human Services announcement declaring monkeypox a public health crisis would be a tool to address the shortage.

A key concern among reporters on the call was the Biden administration not emphasizing the disease is almost exclusively at this point affecting gay and bisexual men, as well as concerns about stigma and misinformation about monkeypox.

Daskalakis, drawing on his experience as a medical expert during the HIV/AIDS crisis, emphasized stigma should play no part in messaging.

“I know from my own experience in public health and personally that stigma is actually what drives so much of infection and really creates false starts and false information that really gets people to go down paths that end up really vilifying people’s lives and behavior,” Daskalakis said. “And so, coming from the experience, both professionally and personally, it is my mission, to not allow stigma to be a part of this or any response that I work on.”

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Alabama

University of Alabama allows students to use “chosen names” on student ID

“Having something that accurately reflects who you are as a person and how you want to make sure that the world sees and respects you is obviously monumentally important, right?”

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Students, faculty and campus members at University of Alabama are now able to put their preferred names on mobile Action Cards, which are the official campus ID cards, for free.

The university’s assistant director of communications Shane Dorrill wrote in email that this option, available on physical cards for several years, will be available online as well after a software update.

ACT Card communications specialist Courtney Petrizzi said the ACT Card office recognized the importance of having the feature, which was previously available on physical cards, on mobile ACT Cards. 

“This change is an update that we created to reflect our campus community’s needs,” Petrizzi said. 

The Action Card office announced this change on May 19. They updated the policy in partnership with UA Safe Zone, a resource center for LGBTQIA+ individuals and their allies on campus. 

Eli Strong, one co-founder of UA Safe Zone said during an interview with AL, “Having something that accurately reflects who you are as a person and how you want to make sure that the world sees and respects you is obviously monumentally important, right?” 

Strong is a transgender man who graduated from University of Alabama. He believed that this change is important because it’s a safety issue. It’s a way for the university to acknowledge people and a way for people to feel affirmed by the documentation they carry around each day.

“It’s an exploratory time where you should be focused on learning and not be focused on the fear of being misgendered or harassed because of who you are,” Will Thomas, one of the co-founders of the University of Alabama LGBTQ+ Alumni Association, claimed that affirming documentation can help students have a positive experience.

This policy change comes after a series of anti-gay lesigilations passed in Alabama, including the Don’t Say Gay amendment and transgender bathroom restrictions.

Campus members can use Action Cards for various daily needs, such as meal plans and dining dollars, building access, sporting and entertainment events and health center access.

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U.S. declares monkeypox a public health emergency

Number of cases of disease among MSM climbs

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Secretary of Health & Human Service Xavier Becerra declared on public health emergency on monkeypox.

The United States has designated monkeypox a public health emergency as the number of cases of the disease, which has primarily affected men who have sex with men, continues to climb.

The news was first reported by the New York Times. Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra announced he’d declare monkeypox a public health emergency in a conference call on Thursday with reporters.

“I will be declaring a public health emergency on monkeypox,” Becerra said. “We’re prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus, and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus.”

Robert Fenton, the recently appointed White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator, said amid criticism the Biden administration has been too slow in responding to monkeypox the new declaration would open up opportunities in confronting the outbreak.

“The public health emergency will allow us to explore additional strategies to get vaccines and treatments more quickly out in the affected communities, and it will allow us to get more data from jurisdictions so we can effectively track the suffering,” Fenton said.

During the call, Becerra said an estimated 6,600 cases of monkeypox have been reported throughout the country, and more than 600,000 vaccines have been delivered to localities. The United States, Becerra said, now has the capacity to administer 60,000 tests for monkeypox each week.

The Biden administration has faced criticism for not moving quickly enough to collect and distribute and for not more explicitly naming gay and bisexual men as being primarily affected by the disease. The New York Times reported this week the Department of Health & Human Services failed to act early on bulk stocks of vaccine.

“The government is now distributing about 1.1 million doses, less than a third of the 3.5 million that health officials now estimate are needed to fight the outbreak,” the Times reported. “It does not expect the next delivery, of half a million doses, until October. Most of the other 5.5 million doses the United States has ordered are not scheduled to be delivered until next year, according to the federal health agency.”

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, has been among the critics of the Biden administration’s approach to the outbreak.

Although the Biden administration has issued a rudimentary plan on monkeypox, Burr said in a statement the Department of Health & Human Services hasn’t laid out an effective plan to Congress.

“I have asked HHS repeatedly for their strategic plan to combat monkeypox and have yet to receive an answer,” Burr said. “On July 13, I sent a letter to Secretary Becerra asking detailed questions about the outbreak and the Biden administration’s response. In the three weeks since that letter was sent, monkeypox cases have increased by more than 470 percent to 6,617 reported cases today. Still, the administration continues to stonewall Congress.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended the Biden administration’s early approach to the monkeypox Thursday under questioning from CNN during the regular briefing with reporters.

“Within two days of the first confirmed case of monkeypox in the U.S., we began deploying vaccine to states and jurisdictions and prepositioning tens of thousands of additional doses in the Strategic National Stockpile,” Jean-Pierre said. “The initial science led us to believe…based on recent past monkeypox outbreaks, that those doses would be sufficient to meet the needs of the country as what we knew at that time.”

Jean-Pierre added, however, infections diseases are dynamics and inherently predictable and the Biden administration “quickly moved” to order tens of thousands of new doses when officials saw that happening with monkeypox.

Asked by CNN whether President Biden think his administration acted urgently in its approach to monkeypox, Jean-Pierre replied, “What we’re saying to you is that I laid out how dynamic and how rapidly changing this virus has been.”

“So yes, the President has confidence in HHS, and let’s not forget, we just brought on the monkeypox coordinators, the response team, which is also going to make a difference,” Jean-Pierre added.

Jennifer Kates, director of global health & HIV policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation, was among those praising the announcement from the Biden administration.

“Monkeypox is quickly spreading throughout the United States, with significant health implications for those it impacts most – so far, primarily gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men – and limited supplies of treatments and vaccines,” Kates said. “This latest move by the federal government is an important one for providing new flexibilities and allowing federal, state, and local health officials to take additional actions to address the outbreak. “

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