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House approves rules affirming commitment to DOMA

Language gives authority for BLAG to defend anti-gay law

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John Boehner, Speaker of the House, GOP, Republican, gay news, Washington Blade
John Boehner, Speaker of the House, GOP, Republican, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. House Speaker, John Boehner (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

As one of its first acts of the 113th Congress, the U.S. House on Thursday approved a set of governing rules that includes language authorizing the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group to defend the Defense of Marriage Act against litigation in court.

By a vote of 228-196, the House voted in favor of a 23-page long resolution giving authority to the BLAG, a five-member Republican-controlled House panel which has taken up defense of DOMA since the administration stopped defending the law. The resolution allows BLAG to intervene in other cases challenging DOMA and gives authority for BLAG to speak for the House before the Supreme Court.

Michael Steel, a spokesperson for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said the House approved the rules because Republicans believe DOMA’s constitutionality should be decided by the courts.

“We continue to believe the constitutionality of the law should be judged by the court, not the president unilaterally — and will provide the resources needed to protect our system of checks and balances,” Steel said.

Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), lambasted Republicans over the language and continued use of taxpayer dollars to defend DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

“House Republicans will send a clear message to LGBT families: their fiscal responsibility mantra does not extend to their efforts to stand firmly on the wrong side of the future,” Hammill said. “Republicans will take the extraordinary measure of including an authorization of their efforts to defend DOMA in the Rules of the House of Representatives and by doing so, continue to spend taxpayer funds, already adding up to $1.7 million, in their attempts to defend this shameful law in federal courts and the Supreme Court.”

Hammill took particular issue with language in the resolution saying BLAG speaks for the entire the chamber. As BLAG has defended DOMA, House Democrats have filed numerous friend-of-the-court briefs asserting the anti-gay law is unconstitutional.

In September, House Republicans signed a new agreement with former U.S. solicitor general Paul Clement to defend DOMA on behalf on BLAG. The contract, which wasn’t revealed under after Election Day, raises the cost cap to defend DOMA to $2 million.

In a joint statement, House LGBT Equality Caucus Members Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Jared Polis (D-Colo), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), and newly sworn-in openly gay members of the U.S. House Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), and Mark Takano (D-Calif.) denounced the move by House Republicans.

“It has been 16 years since Congress enacted DOMA, and the arguments being made to defend the law do not withstand the test of time or scrutiny,” the lawmakers said. “At a time when families are struggling to make ends meet and asking Congress to focus on jobs and the economy, all Members should object to the use of taxpayer dollars to pay costly legal fees to make arguments that lack adequate factual or legal support, in pursuit of a law that is not worthy of a defense.”

Among the Republicans who voted in favor of the rules were the two GOP co-sponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation to repeal DOMA: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.). Only one Republican, Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) joined Democrats in opposing the rules.

The language is new and marks the first the entire House chamber has voted in favor of giving authority to BLAG. The panel wasn’t operating under the language in the previous Congress. The House approved the language not only at a time when the Supreme Court is considering a litigation challenging DOMA, Windsor v. United States, but also when the court is asking parties for briefs on whether BLAG has standing to defend the statute.

The language in the rules related to BLAG follows:

(1) CONTINUING AUTHORITY FOR THE BIPARTISAN LEGAL ADVISORY GROUP.—
(A) The House authorizes the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the 113th Congress—
(i) to act as successor in interest to the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the 112th Congress with respect to civil actions in which it intervened in the 112th Congress to defend the constitutionality of section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (1 U.S.C. 7) or related provisions of titles 10, 31, and 38, United States Code, in- cluding in the case of Windsor v. United States, 833 F. Supp.2d 394 (S.D.N.Y. June 6, 2012), aff’d, 699 F.3d 169 (2d Cir. Oct. 18, 2012), cert. granted, No. 12– 307 (Dec. 7, 2012), cert. pending No. 12– 63 (July 16, 2012) and 12-ll (Dec.ll2012);
(ii) to take such steps as may be appropriate to ensure continuation of such civil actions; and
(iii) to intervene in other cases that involve a challenge to the constitutionality of section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act or related provisions of titles 10, 31, and 38, United States Code.
(B) Pursuant to clause 8 of rule II, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group continues to speak for, and articulate the institutional position of, the House in all litigation matters in which it appears, including in Windsor v. United States.

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National

DOJ urged to investigate threats against providers of transition-related care

Boston-area hospital forced to evacuate in August

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A coalition of major health organizations are calling on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigation threats against providers of gender transition-related medical care for youth, asserting ongoing hostility, including bomb threats and threats of personal violence.

The letter, dated Oct. 3, says medical providers are facing threats for providing “evidence-based health care” to youth, which has meant care for gender transitions, such as hormones, puberty blockers and gender reassignment surgery. The targets of these threats, the letter says, are children’s hospitals, academic health systems and physicians across the country.

“These coordinated attacks threaten federally protected rights to health care for patients and their families,” the letter says. “The attacks are rooted in an intentional campaign of disinformation, where a few high-profile users on social media share false and misleading information targeting individual physicians and hospitals, resulting in a rapid escalation of threats, harassment and disruption of care across multiple jurisdictions.”

The letter has an organizational signature from American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and Children’s Hospital Association, listing no names as representatives. According to the letter, the group represent 270,000 physicians and medical students and CHA represents more than 220 children’s hospitals across the country.

Major health organizations call on the U.S. Justice Department to take action weeks after Boston Children’s Hospital was forced to evacuate over a bomb threat. Authorities later arrested a woman charged with making the after she reportedly phoned in the threat and called the staff “sickos.”

The threats, the letter says, have had significant impact on providers and services to patients, including a new mother being prevented from being with her preterm infant because of a bomb threat; the need for increased security at children’s hospitals; and staffers facing “increased threats via social media – including to their personal accounts.”

A statement from organizations accompanying the letter urges social media companies — including Twitter, TikTok and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram — to “do more to prevent coordinated campaigns of disinformation.”

Jack Resneck, president of the American Medical Association, said in a statement accompanying the letter “individuals in all workplaces have the right to a safe environment, out of harm’s way and free of intimidation or reprisal.”

“As physicians, we condemn groups that promote hate-motivated intolerance and toxic misinformation that can lead to grave real-world violence and extremism and jeopardize patients’ health outcomes,” Resneck said.

The Washington Blade has placed a call in with the Justice Department seeking comment on the letter and the American Medical Association seeking comment on why the letter has organizational signatures as opposed to signatures from any of their representatives.

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Virginia

Youngkin makes additional appointments to Va. LGBTQ+ Advisory Board

Governor plans to revise transgender, nonbinary student guidelines

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Friday announced the appointment of three people to the Virginia LGBTQ+ Advisory Board.

Youngkin named Kerry Flynn, Jason Geske and Collin J. Hite to the board.

Casey Flores, the president of Log Cabin Republicans of Richmond, in July resigned from the board before his tenure was to begin. The resignation came amid growing criticism over a series of anti-LGBTQ and misogynist comments he made against Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), among others.

Youngkin last month announced he plans to revise the Virginia Department of Education’s guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students. Thousands of high school students across Virginia on Sept. 27 walked out of class in protest of the planned revision.

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National

Survey shows 72% of Utah residents back same-sex marriage

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah said he’s not surprised to see that a majority of Utahns now support marriage equality

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The results of a poll run by the Hinckley Institute of Politics and the Desert News found 72% of Utah’s residents agree that marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized by law as valid, with the same rights as cis-gender marriages.

“For a state that less than 20 years ago passed laws and a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, there has been a seismic shift in opinion,” said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

The Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics survey also found that 23% of those surveyed disagreed, while 5% expressed that they don’t know.

The poll shows Utahns are aligned with the nation as a whole on the issue. A Gallup poll in May found 71% of Americans say they support legal same-sex marriage, a new high.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, told the Desert News that he’s not surprised to see that a majority of Utahns now support marriage equality.

“Utah is a pro-family state, and we recognize that families come in all shapes and sizes. When we see loving, committed couples joining in matrimony, our natural impulse is to support and encourage that love. This gives me great hope for the future,” he said.

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