Legislation that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act is enjoying record support as the year comes to a close — and an LGBT group backing the bill is optimistic that strength will grow further as additional lawmakers who support marriage equality take their seats at the start of the next Congress.
Upon introduction in the U.S. House early last year, the bill — known as the Respect for Marriage Act — had 109 sponsors, but the total number of has now grown to 159. That’s short of the 218 needed for a majority vote needed for passage, but still a record number.
Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, said that number of sponsors was achieved after setting a goal upon the bill’s introduction of finding 50 more sponsors and undertaking a coordinated effort with additional groups to win more support.
“Freedom to Marry set out a goal of adding 50 more sponsors this Congress, and have had dozens and dozens of lobby visits with members and their staff,” Solomon said. “For lobbying members of the Congressional Black Caucus, we partnered up with the National Black Justice Coalition and the ACLU, and for GOP members, we worked with Log Cabin and our GOP lobbyist, Kathryn Lehman.”
The most recent addition to the list of co-sponsors is Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who signed as a co-sponsor to the bill on Nov. 16 after Election Day. In a statement to the Washington Blade, Waters said she decided to co-sponsor the bill to provide benefits to married same-sex couples that currently aren’t afforded to them because of DOMA.
“I was very pleased to support the Respect for Marriage Act, critical legislation that would ensure same-sex couples are afforded the same federal benefits as other married couples within states that recognize their unions,” Waters said. “Under current law, same-sex married couples are denied important protections such as Social Security survivor benefits, immigration rights, and family and medical leave.”
Waters’ support also builds on the number of co-sponsors to the bill who are also members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Her support means nine additional caucus members have signed on this year alone, and 34 out of 42 total caucus members are sponsors of the bill.
Of the 159 sponsors to the bill, only one is a Republican. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the only congressional Republican to support marriage equality, signed on as a co-sponsor last year.
Solomon said the bill’s strength is the largely the result of “tremendous growth” in Democratic support for the bill. Upon introduction, the bill enjoyed support from 55 percent of the House Democratic caucus, but the 112th Congress closes with 80 percent of House Democrats counted as co-sponsors.
“It demonstrates that, for Democrats, supporting the freedom to marry and repeal of DOMA has become nearly the default position, the only acceptable position to take,” Solomon said.
Solomon said he expects the already high number of sponsors to be topped in the next Congress because of the 49 Democrats who were elected to the U.S. House for the first time on Election Day, 46 were explicit supporters of marriage equality.
In addition to newly elected openly LGB members of Congress — Sean Patrick Maloney, Kyrsten Sinema, Mark Pocan and Mark Takano — this list includes Patrick Murphy of Florida, who unseated Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) and Joseph Kennedy III of Massachusetts, who’ll take the seat currently occupied by gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.)
According to the Human Rights Campaign and Freedom to Marry, the newly elected House Democrats won’t don’t support marriage equality are William Enyart of Illinois, Filemon Vela of Texas and Pete Gallego of Texas.
“All together, this demonstrates tremendous momentum at the federal level for eliminating this discriminatory law that hurts loving and committed couples and their families, and more generally tremendous momentum for the cause across the board,” Solomon said.
The strong end to the Respect for Marriage Act in the 112th Congress comes at same time that the U.S. Supreme Court is set to consider on Friday taking up litigation that would overturn DOMA through the judicial process. The court is widely expected to take up at least one DOMA case and a ruling on the anti-gay law is expected by the end of June.
But passage of the legislation may still be necessary. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chief sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, earlier told the Washington Blade passage of his bill is still needed it contains a “certainly clause” that would allow federal benefits to flow to married same-sex couples even if they relocate to states where it’s not recognized. It’s unclear hether a court ruling against DOMA would achieve the same goal.
Waters noted the incoming House Democratic caucus will be “majority-minority” — it’ll have a never-before-seen representation of women, ethnic minorities and LGBT members — and said that diversity makes it incumbent upon the caucus “to recognize and respect the personal dignity of all our colleagues and their families.”
“Today, with the support of President Obama, and a steady shift in public attitudes trending in support of marriage equality, I believe that it is only a matter of time before we see a complete end to DOMA – a discriminatory law that violates fundamental principles of liberty and equal protection guaranteed under the Constitution,” Waters said.
CORRECTION: An initial version of this article, citing a list provided by Freedom to Marry, incorrectly stated the position on same-sex marriage held by William Enyart, Filemon Vela, Don Payne and Bill Foster. Additionally, an initial posting gave an incorrect title for Marc Solomon. The Blade regrets the error. The updated version also removes language speculating the bill would have fewer co-sponsors upon reintroduction.
Louisiana lawmakers fail to overturn Edwards veto of Trans sports bill
Edwards further said that the bill was “mean” because it targets “the most emotionally fragile children in the state of Louisiana.”
BATON ROUGE – Louisiana lawmakers failed to override Gov. John Bel Edwards’ (D) veto last month of a bill that would have barred trans girls and women from participating on athletic teams or in sporting events designated for girls or women at elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools.
The measure, Senate Bill 156 authored by Sen. Beth Mizell titled the ‘the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,’ in the Governor’s eyes, “was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana,” Edwards said in his veto statement;
“As I have said repeatedly when asked about this bill, discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana. Even the author of the bill acknowledged throughout the legislative session that there wasn’t a single case where this was an issue.
The Republican majority state House chamber failed to override the Governor’s veto after voting 68-30 to override it, according to the state legislature’s website.
The vote narrowly missed the 70-vote threshold needed in the lower chamber to override the veto.
Two-thirds of both the House and Senate must vote to override a governor’s veto, according to the local Baton Rouge newspaper The Advocate.
The Governor reacted to the news that his veto withstood Republican efforts to overturn it in a press conference Wednesday.
Edwards noted that in his view he had “rejected a play” that had no place in Louisiana.
“I would rather the headlines going out from today be that Louisiana did what was right and best. We rejected a play out of a national playbook that just had no place in Louisiana. That bill wasn’t crafted for our state, I mean go read it and look at the arguments that were made. None of that applies here,” Edwards said.
He further said that the bill was “mean” because it targets “the most emotionally fragile children in the state of Louisiana.”
“We have to be better than that,” Edwards said. “We have to be better than that.”
Federal court blocks West Virginia Law banning Trans youth sports
“It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A judge of the United States District Court, Southern District of West Virginia ruled Wednesday that 11-year-old Becky Pepper-Jackson must be allowed to try out for the girls’ cross-country and track teams at her school, blocking West Virginia from enforcing a law that bans transgender girls and women from participating in school sports.
The ruling came in the lawsuit challenging the ban filed by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of West Virginia, and Cooley LLP.
“I am excited to know that I will be able to try out for the girls’ cross-country team and follow in the running shoes of my family,” said Becky Pepper-Jackson, the plaintiff in the lawsuit. “It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed H.B. 3293 into law at the end of April. It was one of hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills pushed in state legislatures across the country in 2021. During legislative debate, it was not endorsed by any mainstream sporting or health organizations. A similar law in Idaho was blocked by a federal court in 2020, and a federal court in Connecticut recently dismissed a challenge to policies that allow all girls, including girls who are transgender, to participate on girls’ sports teams. Legal challenges are underway against similar laws passed in other states.
The Supreme Court recently refused to disturb Gavin Grimm’s victory at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, where he prevailed in challenging his school’s anti-transgender discrimination against him. This decision — which is binding precedent in West Virginia federal court — said that federal law protects transgender students from discrimination in schools.
“This is great news for Becky, and while our work is not done yet, today’s ruling jibes with similar rulings in other courts across the country,” said Avatara Smith-Carrington, Tyron Garner Memorial Law Fellow, Lambda Legal. “It is our hope that courts recognize and address discrimination when they see it, and nowhere is it more visible than in these stark attacks against trans youth.”
“Becky — like all students — should have the opportunity to try out for a sports team and play with her peers,” said Josh Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project. “We hope this also sends a message to other states to stop demonizing trans kids to score political points and to let these kids live their lives in peace.”
“We’ve said all along this cruel legislation would not survive a legal challenge, and we’re encouraged by the court’s decision today,” said ACLU-WV Legal Director Loree Stark. “We hope trans kids throughout West Virginia who felt attacked and wronged by the passage of this legislation are feeling empowered by today’s news.”
“We are extremely gratified — for Becky, and for all trans youth — at the court’s recognition that the law and the facts clearly support treating people who are transgender fairly and equally. Discrimination has no place in schools or anywhere else,” said Kathleen Hartnett of Cooley LLP.
Conservative groups attack proposed Alabama capital city’s LGBTQ law
Allege law requires Christians to violate their religious beliefs
MONTGOMERY – The Alabama capital’s City Council is being urged to reject a proposed ordinance that would make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes under the law. Matthew Clark, the Executive Director of the conservative Alabama Center for Law and Liberty sent a letter on behalf of his group and six allied organizations asking the Council to abandon a vote implementing the ordnance.
According to the letter, the groups allege that the law would require Christians to violate their religious beliefs or face fines under certain circumstances. Prominent among the other signatures is Mathew D. Staver, Chairman of Liberty Counsel which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as an extremist anti-LGBTQ hate group.
The SPLC, which has its headquarters in Montgomery, writes; “The Liberty Counsel has also been active in the battle against same-sex marriage and hate crimes legislation, which it claimed in a 2007 news release to be “’thought crimes’ laws that violate the right to freedom of speech and of conscience” and will “have a chilling effect on people who have moral or religious objections to homosexual behavior.” In that same release, the Liberty Counsel falsely claimed that the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo., had nothing to do with homosexuality, but instead was “a bungled robbery.”
In the letter Clark noted; ““As we read the ordinance, churches could be fined if they refuse to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, and they might be fined if they refused to let same-sex couples use their facilities for weddings,” Clark said. “They could also be fined if they declined to hire non-ministerial personnel, such as facility managers or secretaries, whose sexual orientation or gender identity contradicts the tenants of the church’s faith.”
“Christian schools, small business owners, and homeowners are also in the crosshairs. Schools could face liability if they decline to let transgender students use the locker rooms of their choice,” Clark said. “Small business owners like Jack Phillips [referring to Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission] could face liability. And homeowners who list their homes on Airbnb could be fined if they declined to let a same-sex couple engage in sexual activities in their home that violate the tenants of their faith.”
Clark then warned the City Council that if it passes the ordinance, litigation could result and the City would likely lose.
The Montgomery Advertiser reported last month that City Mayor Steven Reed said a council vote in favor of the LGTBQ nondiscrimination ordinance that’s now being drafted in Montgomery would send a message.
“There are signals that communities can send, and this is an important signal not only to those residents that live here right now but people all over the country that have maybe one idea of Alabama and Montgomery, and we want to show them that there’s a different reality here,” he said.
Reed and his team have been working with the Human Rights Campaign and other advocacy groups to draft an ordinance that would expand protections for LGBTQ residents in the state’s capital city. The proposed measure, which would specifically target discrimination in government, employment and housing based on sexual orientation or gender identity the Advertiser reported.
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