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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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17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Garrett Winters

    January 4, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    Who can blame the guy…his last name really should be pronounced "Boner", considering that there's no grammatical way "Boh" could be pronounced "Bay"…but joking aside, I thought we were getting rid of the doublethink law of DOMA…when will people realize…

  2. John F. Sparks Jr.

    January 4, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    This very clearly violates the rights of people, how can this shit go on for so long? Is this not clearly a violation of the separation of church and state? Sigh, I sincerely feel sorrow for the plight of LGBT people in the world…

    • Garrett Winters

      January 4, 2013 at 6:58 pm

      Quite a few places have it better than "The Land of the Free"…

    • Chris Rutter

      January 6, 2013 at 10:40 pm

      Come to Canada!

  3. Danny Ingersoll

    January 4, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    BLAG, in true Repuplican fashion is the furthest thing from what it is called. There should have been a provision that the term "Bi-Partisan" be removed From the name of this group. It is ANYTHING, BUT…
    this railroading by Boehner & his cronies has got to be stopped!
    They say that this issue should be decided by Congress, and not the President unilaterally. I agree, as long as Congress is truly representing the people, and not just this sliver group of whack-jobs……..

  4. Jack Potts

    January 4, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    I'm waiting for the GOP to propose the final solution to the problem with the "Gays". After all, they are the blame for everything from 9/11 to hurricanes. At least that what I hear these nincompoops state.

    • Laura Henry

      January 6, 2013 at 2:46 pm

      You forgot Petraeus affair, and the CT shootings..

  5. David Gill

    January 4, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    Republicans need to get their heads out of their butts. We should worry about the world and not Gay Mariage. It is non of their business!

  6. David Gill

    January 4, 2013 at 9:21 pm

    Gay people. A real threat to society.

  7. Aramis Wilson

    January 5, 2013 at 12:57 am

    How much is this costing We, the People?

  8. Stephen Bolejack

    January 5, 2013 at 7:54 am

    The Supreme Court is taking on the subject very soon, only week's, if not already.
    "Gay Marriage" ~ It is going to pass, Federal Law by The Supreme Court. That cannot be changed by any group or no one else. People will have to accept that all people are created equal, unacceptable behavior by some people will not be tolerated. If you do not live a Christ like life (acceptance), then you will not be accepted in the Kingdom of God. Jesus preached this, and was accepted in his time, he had no problem with this subject. Gay people are the only real people that exists, God has blessed me since birth and has continued all my life. I can talk to him and he takes care of any problem or worry that I pray to him about everyday. It is truly an amazing life being blessed by my lord and savoir Jesus Christ, God, The Holy Spirit. He has given me unconditional love. We are suppose to live this life and enjoy what God provides and the people that he give's to each one. It is truly amazing! So many people are caught up in total chaos of this world that you miss the true meaning of life! Distraction is evil and that is where people fail to realize it is all God's plan. Love thy neighbor as much as you want to be loved. He preached only LOVE and to believe in him and turn over your life to him (gay or straight ~ black or white), including all nations and you will have everlasting life in The Kingdom Of God. WAKE UP EVERYONE! We could solve all problem's, only if we could LOVE enough. Just Imagine!

    • Laura Henry

      January 6, 2013 at 2:45 pm

      Stephen SCOTUS is looking at this and the Prop 8 issue..If im not mistaken.wont know until approximately July what they decided..we know Judge Scalia is a HOMOPHOBE so he wont look at in a fair way! But hopefully the other justices will

    • Kiaunna Ledian Evrae

      January 6, 2013 at 5:05 pm

      Scalia should be recused.

  9. Jim Guinnessey

    January 5, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    I imagine that to be a GOP House member today being a bigoted heterosexual asshole is mandatory. I also wonder how many of these sanctimonious House members are divorced, remarried or just have girlfriends or prostitutes on the side. The House GOP stands for ” Gang of Parasites.”

  10. Bobby Slobby

    January 6, 2013 at 2:35 am

    Complete and utter tool.

  11. Miko

    January 6, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    This smacks more as the last desperate act of small minded men when you consider that SCOTA is set to review this very “law”. I am continually disgusted by the acts of small minded men continually trying to re-write the Constitution to deny basic human rights to people they personally find offensive. I find THEM offensive. Mayhap I should re-write the Constitution to deny them as well.

  12. Alana Danes

    January 7, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Let's hope the courts finally stand up for what this country is about and rule DOMA unconstitutional and maybe then we can start seeing some change. It is sickening that the republicans are taking money that could be used for so much good and instead use it to promote hate and anti-American ideas. John Boehner should not even have a job handing out ketchup for peoples fries let alone be in office.

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Venezuelan man with AIDS dies in ICE custody

Pablo Sánchez Gotopo passed away at Miss. hospital on Oct. 1

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Pablo Sanchez Gotopo, who was living with HIV/AIDS, died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in Mississippi on Oct. 1, 2021. (Courtesy photo)

A Venezuelan man with AIDS died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody on Oct. 1.

An ICE press release notes Pablo Sánchez Gotopo, 40, died at Merit Health River Oaks in Flowood, Miss., which is a suburb of Jackson, the state capital. The press release notes the “preliminary cause of death was from complications with acute respiratory failure, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), pneumonia, acute kidney failure, anemia and COVID-19.”

ICE said U.S. Border Patrol took Sánchez into custody near Del Rio, Texas, on May 17. He arrived at the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss., four days later.

“Upon arrival to an ICE facility, all detainees are medically screened and administered a COVID-19 test by ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) personnel,” said ICE in its press release. “Sánchez’s test results came back negative.”

The press release notes Sánchez on July 28 received another COVID-19 test after he “began showing symptoms of COVID-19.” ICE said he tested negative, but Adams County Detention Center personnel transferred him to a Natchez hospital “for additional advanced medical care.”

ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations staff in its New Orleans Field Office, according to the press release, “coordinated with hospital staff to arrange family visitation” after Sánchez’s “health condition deteriorated.” Sánchez was transferred to Merit Health River Oaks on Sept. 25.

“ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases,” says the press release.

Venezuela’s political and economic crises have prompted more than 10,000 people with HIV to leave the country, according to the New York-based Aid for AIDS International.

Activists and health care service providers in Venezuela with whom the Washington Blade has spoken in recent years have said people with HIV/AIDS in the country have died because of a lack of antiretroviral drugs. Andrés Cardona, director of Fundación Ancla, a group in the Colombian city of Medellín that works with migrants and other vulnerable groups, told the Blade last month that many Venezuelans with HIV would have died if they hadn’t come to Colombia.

The Blade has not been able to verify a Venezuelan activist’s claim that Sánchez was gay. It is also not known why Sánchez decided to leave Venezuela and travel to the U.S.

ICE detainee with HIV described Miss. detention center as ‘not safe’

Activists and members of Congress continue to demand ICE release people with HIV/AIDS in their custody amid reports they don’t have adequate access to medications and other necessary medical treatment.

Two trans women with HIV—Victoria Arellano from Mexico and Roxsana Hernández from Honduras—died in ICE custody in 2007 and 2018 respectively. Johana “Joa” Medina Leon, a trans woman with HIV who fled El Salvador, died in 2019, three days after ICE released her from a privately-run detention center.

The Blade in July 2020 interviewed a person with HIV who was in ICE custody at the Adams County Detention Center. The detainee said there was no social distancing at the privately-run facility and personnel were not doing enough to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

“It’s not safe,” they told the Blade.

The entrance to the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Elisabeth Grant-Gibson, a Natchez resident who supports ICE detainees and their families, on Wednesday told the Blade that she was able to visit the Adams County Detention Center and other ICE facilities in the Miss Lou Region of Mississippi and Louisiana from November 2019 until the suspension of in-person visitation in March 2020 because of the pandemic.

“Medical neglect and refusal of medical care has always been an issue in the detention center at Adams County,” said Grant-Gibson. “After the facilities were closed to public visitation, those problems increased.”

Grant-Gibson told the Blade she “worked with a number of families and received phone calls from a number of detainees, and I was told again and again that detainees were being refused the opportunity to visit the infirmary.”

“When they did visit the infirmary, they were given virtually no treatment for the issues they were presenting with,” said Grant-Gibson.

ICE in its press release that announced Sánchez’s death said fatalities among its detainees, “statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S. detained population.” ICE also noted it spends more than $315 million a year “on the spectrum of healthcare services provided to detainees.”

“ICE’s Health Service Corps (IHSC) ensures the provision of necessary medical care services as required by ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards and based on the medical needs of the detainee,” notes the ICE press release. “Comprehensive medical care is provided from the moment detainees arrive and throughout the entirety of their stay. All ICE detainees receive medical, dental, and mental health intake screening within 12 hours of arriving at each detention facility, a full health assessment within 14 days of entering ICE custody or arrival at a facility, and access to daily sick call and 24-hour emergency care.”

An ICE spokesperson on Wednesday pointed the Blade to its Performance-Based Detention Standards from 2011, which includes policies for the treatment of detainees with HIV/AIDS.

A detainee “may request HIV testing at any time during detention” and ICE detention centers “shall develop a written plan to ensure the highest degree of confidentiality regarding HIV status and medical condition.” The policy also states that “staff training must emphasize the need for confidentiality, and procedures must be in place to limit access to health records to only authorized individuals and only when necessary.”

“The accurate diagnosis and medical management of HIV infection among detainees shall be promoted,” reads the policy. “An HIV diagnosis may be made only by a licensed health care provider, based on a medical history, current clinical evaluation of signs and symptoms and laboratory studies.”

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Rachel Levine on becoming four-star admiral: ‘It comes from my desire to serve’

Trans official sworn-in to U.S. Public Health Service

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For Rachel Levine, the appointment to her new role as a four-star admiral complementing her existing duties as assistant secretary for health is another way for the first openly transgender Senate-confirmed presidential appointee to serve.

“I think that this just really comes from my desire to serve in all capacities,” Levine said in an interview Tuesday with the Washington Blade. “To serve the first day in my field of academic medicine and pediatrics, but then in Pennsylvania and now in the federal government, and it furthers my ability to do that.”

Levine, 63, also recognized the importance of the appointment as a transgender person within the U.S. Public Health Service, for which she was ceremonially sworn in on Tuesday

“I think for the LGBTQ+ community, it is a further sign of progress and our president’s commitment to equity, to inclusion and diversity,” Levine said. “So I think that it is a very important milestone, and I’m pleased to serve.”

As part of her duties, Levine will lead an estimated 6,000 public health service officers serving vulnerable populations, including deployments inside and outside the country for communities beleaguered with the coronavirus, according to the Department of Health & Human Services. The role involves working closely with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy, whom Levine called her “friend and colleague.”

The U.S. Public Health Service, Levine said, has deployed “many, many times,” including its greatest number ever of deployments to vulnerable populations during the coronavirus pandemic. Among the places the service has deployed, Levine said, was in her home state of Pennsylvania, where she recently served as secretary of health.

Not only is Levine the first openly transgender person to serve in the uniformed health service as a four-star general, but she’s also the first woman to serve in that capacity.

“We have 6,000 dedicated committed public servants really all focused on our nation’s health, and they serve in details to the CDC and the FDA and the NIH, but also clinically with the Indian Health Service, and the federal prison system,” Levine said. “They’re also detailed and deployed throughout the country, and they deployed like never before for COVID-19 as well as the border, as well as dealing with floods and hurricanes and tornadoes.”

Although the Public Health Service is primarily focused on addressing public health disasters within the United States, Levine said it has a record of deployments overseas, including years ago when it was deployed to Africa under the threat of Ebola.

Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra had high praise for Levine in a statement upon news of taking on a leadership position in the service.

“This is a proud moment for us at HHS,” Becerra said. “Adm. Levine — a highly accomplished pediatrician who helps drive our agency’s agenda to boost health access and equity and to strengthen behavioral health — is a cherished and critical partner in our work to build a healthier America.”

Levine, however, was careful to draw a distinction between her appointment within the Public Health Service and being a service member within the U.S. armed forces.

“It is not a military branch, it’s not the armed forces: It’s a uniformed force, so it’s different,” Levine said. “For example, the Army, the Navy, our military, there are two other uniformed branches, and that is ours, the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and NOAA.”

The new role, Levine said, would complement her duties as assistant secretary for health. Although not only secretaries of health have been commissioned to take the uniform, Levine said she wanted to undertake that as part of her role in the Biden administration.

The two appointments were not simultaneous, Levine said, because of a general process she undertook, which was completed just this week.

It hasn’t been an easy road for Levine. During her Senate confirmation process, when she was hounded by anti-transgender attacks in conservative media and rude, invasive questioning by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on her gender identity.

Levine, however, said she hasn’t encountered any hostility regarding her new role (as of now) and shrugged off any potential attacks in the future and said the move is about her career “to serve and to help people.”

“I’ve continued that for our nation as the assistant secretary for health and this is just a further demonstration of my commitment to service,” Levine said. “I don’t know what others will say, but that’s the genesis of my wanting to serve in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and to place on the uniform.”

Levine’s new appointment comes shortly after a group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sent her a letter dated Sept. 30 calling on her and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, to issue new guidance for hospital or residential care on mental health needs of transgender people.

Asked about the letter, Levine said mental health issues are under the authority of Delphin-Rittmon and the two “will work together and we will respond.”

Specifically, the senators in the letter call on the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, or BHCC, and experts in the field of adolescent trans care to offer guidance on best practices for inpatient mental health care among these youth.

Asked what the response will look like, Levine said, “We’re going to work on that.”

“We will be looking at what they’re asking for and the requirements, and we’ll talk with them and the stakeholders and we’ll look to issue appropriate guidance,” Levine said.

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Colin Powell, leaving mixed legacy on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ dies at 84

Key figure once opposed gays in military, then backed review

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gay news, Washington Blade, Colin Powell, gay marriage
Colin Powell leaves behind a mixed legacy on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Colin Powell, the first ever Black secretary of state who served in top diplomatic and military roles in U.S. administrations, died Monday of coronavirus at age 84, leaving behind a mixed record on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The world continues to grapple with the pandemic and the public grows increasingly frustrated with its persistence as many remain unvaccinated despite the wide availability of vaccines. Powell was fully vaccinated, according to a statement released upon his death. Powell reportedly suffered from multiple myeloma, a condition that hampers an individual’s ability to combat blood infections.

Rising to the top of the military as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell supported in 1993 Congress moving forward with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a law that barred openly gay people from serving in the U.S. military.

During a key moment congressional testimony, Powell and other top military officials were asked whether or not allowing gay people in the military would be compatible with military readiness. Each official, including Powell,” responded “incompatible.” Congress would enact “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that year.

Things changed when President Obama took office 15 years later and advocates for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were eager to claim Powell’s voice among their ranks. After all, Powell was highly respected as a bipartisan voice after having served as secretary of state in the administration of George W. Bush and endorsing Obama in the 2008 election.

After the Obama administration in 2010 announced it would conduct a review of the idea of allowing gay people to serve openly in the military, Powell came out in support of that process. Advocates of repeal called that a declaration of reversal, although the statement fell short of a full support for gay people serving openly in the military.

“In the almost 17 years since the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ legislation was passed, attitudes and circumstances have changed,” General Powell said in a statement issued by his office, adding, “I fully support the new approach presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week by Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen.”

Congress acted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the policy was lifted in 2011. At the time, Powell was widely considered a supporter of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and publicly counted among supporters of repeal, although the Blade couldn’t immediately find any statements from him to that effect.

In 2012, Powell had similar vaguely supportive words on same-sex marriage, saying he had “no problem with it” when asked about the issue.

“As I’ve thought about gay marriage, I know a lot of friends who are individually gay but are in partnerships with loved ones, and they are as stable a family as my family is, and they raise children,” Powell said. “And so I don’t see any reason not to say that they should be able to get married.”

The Blade also couldn’t immediately find any statement from Powell on transgender people serving in the military. After the Obama administration in 2016 lifted decades-old regulations against transgender service, former President Trump issued a ban by tweet the following year. President Biden reversed that ban and allowed transgender people to serve and enlist in the military in his first year in office.

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