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Ill. Senate committee approves same-sex marriage bill

Advocates hope incoming legislature will pass measure

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Illinois State Capitol, Springfield, gay news, Washington Blade

Illinois State Capitol (Photo by Meagan Davis via wikimedia commons)

An Illinois Senate committee on Thursday voted 8-5 to advance a measure that would allow same-sex couples to marry in the state.

The vote in the Illinois Senate Executive Committee, which had been expected to take place on Wednesday, came after supporters and opponents of the bill testified during a hearing in Springfield, the state capital.

Reverend Vernice Thorn of Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago noted Jan. 1 marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation at the beginning of her testimony in support of the measure.

“It is in that framework of liberation that I come today in support of allowing my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters the freedom to marry in Illinois,” she said. “In my ordination vows I promised to minister to all God’s people and so for me it is imperative that I provide the same marital and pastoral care to everyone in my congregation.”

Bonnie Garneau of PFLAG Bloomington/Normal said her daughter “does not have the same legal options as my sons” because of a lack of marriage rights for same-sex couples in Illinois. Reverend Kim Beckmann of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America testified that she realized the importance of nuptials for gays and lesbians when she observed how a man was treated during his partner’s funeral.

“Marriage equality is about these profound moments from the joy of a wedding and the sorrows of the death that parts us,” Beckmann said. “Even more, marriage equality is about all those days in between, ordinary days of raising families, keeping a household running and supporting vocations that build Illinois communities. Anyone of us who tries to live faithfully and fully in family life knows the importance of the recognition and community support and the legal support that marriage brings. As a pastor and as a person of faith, I want those supports for every household in my congregation and I want these supports that make for strong, thriving and life-giving communities available to all our Illinois families.”

Mercedes Santos and Theresa Volpe, who are among the 25 couples on whose behalf Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois filed lawsuits in May after they were denied marriage licenses, also testified during the hearing. Doctor Laura Berk, a psychologist at Illinois State University, stressed children of gays and lesbians are no different than those raised by heterosexual parents.

Nine states and D.C. allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot, while Illinois is among the handful of others that allow civil unions for same-sex couples.

The committee’s vote coincided with the introduction of two same-sex marriage bills in the Rhode Island General Assembly. Delaware, Hawaii and New Jersey are also scheduled to debate nuptials for gays and lesbians this year.

President Obama, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Illinois Republican Party Chair Pat Brady are among those who urged lawmakers to back the measure. Gay “Modern Family” actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson also spoke out in support of the proposal, but 1,700 clergy from across the state urged committee members in a letter they sent to them on Wednesday to vote against the bill.

“The proposal you have before you would redefine marriage,” Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield said as he testified against the measure alongside Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois. “I ask that you vote against this bill because the legislation fails to recognize certain truths. Neither two men or two women can possibly form a marriage. Our law would be wrong if it said that they could. The basic structure of marriage as the exclusive and lasting relationship of a man and a woman committed to a life with the potential of having children is given to us in human nature, and thus by nature’s God. Some have said that this bill would simply extend marriage to some people who have long been arbitrarily excluded from it. They are wrong. The pending bill would not expand the eligibility roster for marriage; it would radically redefine what marriage is for everybody.”

Ralph Rivera of the Illinois Family Institute questioned whether the bill protects religious freedom.

“This is an attack on our particular religious beliefs and the church’s religious beliefs,” he said, broadly referring to a Massachusetts man who claims he was arrested in 2005 because he demanded his son’s school administrators not expose him to homosexuality after he brought a book home that included families with same-sex couples. “It’s not about as some would say oh it’s just two men who want to get married or two women. That’s not it. When this says the church has to do what they ask unless they’re exempt from this in the way this is written.”

State Sen. Heather Steans, the bill’s sponsor, stressed during the hearing that same-sex couples “have the same aspirations we all do.” She also noted a majority of Illinois residents now support nuptials for gays and lesbians.

Steans added the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear cases on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 provide additional motivation for lawmakers to support the issue.

“There’s a sea change going on here,” she said. “It’s time Illinois join up and catch up to that and join the nine other states that already provide same-sex marriage.”

Advocates look towards incoming legislature

Lawmakers had until the end of the current legislative session on Tuesday to vote on the same-sex marriage bill, but Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov and other advocates conceded that “time to move the bill through both chambers” of the legislature “is not on our side.” They said they plan to advance the measure once the new General Assembly convenes on Jan. 9.

“We have come so far,” Cherkasov said. “Just to be able to witness the historic public debate over the desire of all loving, committed couples to be able to marry in Illinois is a major accomplishment. And with the landmark action by the Senate Executive Committee in favor of the bill, for the first time ever an Illinois legislative body voted to extend the freedom to marry. Never before has the issue gone this far in the Illinois legislature.”

Rick Garcia, senior policy adviser for the Civil Rights Agenda who is Equality Illinois’ former political director, disagreed with this decision.

“What I have learned — and I have been down here [in Springfield] for 20 years, and I have worked things — is that on every piece of legislation I have worked on, there are dark times, when you think it’s not going to go,” he told the Windy City Times after the committee’s vote. “You push forward, and you stand firm, you move and move until you can’t move any more. To throw in the towel now is a stupid maneuver. TCRA is here, and we’ve been here for past three years, and we knew nothing about this decision until we saw the press release.”

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Alabama

Ala. extends ban on transgender female athletes to universities

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed bill on Tuesday

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Alabama Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday signed House Bill 261, which limits transgender students to playing sports in public colleges and universities only with “their biological sex assigned at birth.”

“Look, if you are a biological male, you are not going to be competing in women’s and girls’ sports in Alabama. It’s about fairness, plain and simple,”  said Ivey in a statement released by her office.

House Bill 261 was approved 26-4 in the Alabama Senate and 83-5 in the House of Representatives. In the vote in the House more than a dozen lawmakers abstained from the vote.

Ivey had previously signed legislation in 2021 banning trans female athletes from competing in K-12 girls sports. At the time she signed that bill the governor had noted that “Alabama remains committed to protecting female athletes at all levels and upholding the integrity of athletics.”

Carmarion D. Anderson-Harvey, Alabama state director of the Human Rights Campaign, said the legislation is part of a “systematic attack against LGBTQ+ people” in Alabama and elsewhere.

“In just two years, [Ivey] and extremist lawmakers in Alabama have passed four anti-LGBTQ+ bills. From dictating what bathrooms we can use to blatantly ignoring the actual problems in women’s sports, these politicians are making Alabama an increasingly hostile place for transgender people and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole,” Anderson-Harvey said.

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The White House

Biden condemns signing of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act

National Security Council ‘to evaluate’ law’s implications, U.S. engagement with country

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President Joe Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Joe Biden on Monday condemned Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that the country’s president has signed.

“The enactment of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act is a tragic violation of universal human rights — one that is not worthy of the Ugandan people, and one that jeopardizes the prospects of critical economic growth for the entire country,” said Biden in his statement. “I join with people around the world — including many in Uganda — in calling for its immediate repeal. No one should have to live in constant fear for their life or being subjected to violence and discrimination. It is wrong.”

Biden notes “reports of violence and discrimination targeting Ugandans who are or are perceived to be LGBTQI+ are on the rise,” since MPs introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

“Innocent Ugandans now fear going to hospitals, clinics, or other establishments to receive life-saving medical care lest they be targeted by hateful reprisals. Some have been evicted from their homes or fired from their jobs. And the prospect of graver threats — including lengthy prison sentences, violence, abuse — threatens any number of Ugandans who want nothing more than to live their lives in safety and freedom,” said Biden.

“This shameful Act is the latest development in an alarming trend of human rights abuses and corruption in Uganda. The dangers posed by this democratic backsliding are a threat to everyone residing in Uganda, including U.S. government personnel, the staff of our implementing partners, tourists, members of the business community and others,” added Biden. 

The version of the Anti-Homosexuality Act that President Yoweri Museveni signed contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

Biden in his statement notes he has “directed my National Security Council to evaluate the implications of this law on all aspects of U.S. engagement with Uganda, including our ability to safely deliver services under the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and other forms of assistance and investments. My administration will also incorporate the impacts of the law into our review of Uganda’s eligibility for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).”  

“We are considering additional steps, including the application of sanctions and restriction of entry into the United States against anyone involved in serious human rights abuses or corruption,” he said.

Ugandan media reports indicate the U.S. has revoked Parliament Speaker Anita Among’s visa.

“The United States shares a deep and committed partnership with the people of Uganda. For more than 60 years, we have worked together to help millions of Ugandans live healthier, more productive lives,” said Biden in his statement. “Our programs have boosted economic growth and agricultural productivity, increased investments in Ugandan businesses, and strengthened our trade cooperation. In total, the U.S. government invests nearly $1 billion annually in Uganda’s people, business, institutions, and military to advance our common agenda. The scale of our commitments speaks to the value we place on this partnership — and our faith in the people of Uganda to build for themselves a better future. It is my sincere hope that we can continue to build on this progress, together and strengthen protections for the human rights of people everywhere.”
 

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Texas

Texas attorney general impeached, suspended pending outcome of Senate trial

Ken Paxton over the last decade has targeted LGBTQ people

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The Texas House of Representatives voted to impeach state Attorney General Ken Paxton on May 27, 2023. (Photo by Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune)

Editor’s note: For the vast majority of the past 10 years the Texas attorney general has waged a relentless campaign to limit the rights and equality of LGBTQ Texans, especially transgender Texans. Today’s vote is significant in terms of the possibility that a Senate conviction would offer a potential respite from Paxton’s attacks on the LGBTQ community.

By  Zach Despart and James Barragan AUSTIN, Texas | In a history-making late-afternoon vote, a divided Texas House chose Saturday to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton, temporarily removing him from office over allegations of misconduct that included bribery and abuse of office.

The vote to adopt the 20 articles of impeachment was 121-23.

Attention next shifts to the Texas Senate, which will conduct a trial with senators acting as jurors and designated House members presenting their case as impeachment managers.

Permanently removing Paxton from office and barring him from holding future elected office in Texas would require the support of two-thirds of senators.

The move to impeach came less than a week after the House General Investigating Committee revealed that it was investigating Paxton for what members described as a yearslong pattern of misconduct and questionable actions that include bribery, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice. They presented the case against him Saturday, acknowledging the weight of their actions.

“Today is a very grim and difficult day for this House and for the state of Texas,” Rep. David Spiller (R-Jacksboro), a committee member, told House members.

“We have a duty and an obligation to protect the citizens of Texas from elected officials who abuse their office and their powers for personal gain,” Spiller said. “As a body, we should not be complicit in allowing that behavior.”

Paxton supporters criticized the impeachment proceedings as rushed, secretive and based on hearsay accounts of actions taken by Paxton, who was not given the opportunity to defend himself to the investigating committee.

“This process is indefensible,” said Rep. John Smithee (R-Amarillo), who complained that the vote was taking place on a holiday weekend before members had time to conduct a thorough review of the accusations. “It concerns me a lot because today it could be General Paxton, tomorrow it could be you and the next day it could be me.”

Saturday’s vote temporarily removes a controversial but influential Republican figure in Texas and nationally. He has led an office that initiated lawsuits that overturned or blocked major Biden and Obama administration policies, sought to reverse Trump’s electoral defeat in 2020, aggressively pursued voter fraud claims and targeted hospitals that provided gender care to minors.

The Legislature had impeached state officials just twice since 1876 — and never an attorney general — but the House committee members who proposed impeachment argued Saturday that Paxton’s misconduct in office was so egregious that it warranted his removal.

“This gentleman is no longer fit for service or for office,” said committee member Rep. Ann Johnson (D-Houston). “Either this is going to be the beginning of the end of his criminal reign, or God help us with the harms that will come to all Texans if he’s allowed to stay the top cop on the take, if millions of Texans can’t trust us to do the right thing, right here, right now.”

Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), a member of the investigative committee, used his presentation time to criticize Paxton for calling representatives as they worked on the House floor to “personally threaten them with political consequences in the next election” if they supported impeachment.

Speaking against impeachment, Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington), called the process “wrong.”

“Don’t end our session this way. Don’t tarnish this institution,” Tinderholt said. “Don’t cheapen the act of impeachment. Don’t undermine the will of the voters. Don’t give Democrats another victory handed to them on a silver platter.”

The vote came as hardline conservatives supportive of Paxton’s aggressive strategy of suing the Biden administration were lining up in support of him. Former President Donald Trump — a close political ally to Paxton — blasted the impeachment proceedings as an attempt to unseat “the most hard working and effective” attorney general and thwart the “large number of American Patriots” who voted for Paxton.

Trump vowed to target any Republican who voted to impeach Paxton.

As lawmakers listened to the committee members make their case, Paxton took to social media to boost conservatives who had come to his defense, including Trump, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and conservative radio host Grant Stinchfield, who tweeted, “Kangaroo Court in Texas.”

About 90 minutes into the debate, the official Twitter account of the Texas attorney general’s office began tweeting at members of the committee to challenge some of the claims being made.

“Please tell the truth,” the agency’s account said.

Because Paxton was impeached while the Legislature was in session, the Texas Constitution requires the Senate to remain in Austin after the regular session ends Monday or set a trial date for the future, with no deadline for a trial spelled out in the law.

Impeachment represents the greatest political threat to date for Paxton, who has been reelected twice despite a 2015 indictment for felony securities fraud and an ongoing federal investigation into allegations of official misconduct that began in 2020.

The impeachment vote, on the third-to-last day of the regular legislative session, capped a tumultuous week at the Capitol. From Tuesday to Thursday:

  • Paxton abruptly accused House Speaker Dade Phelan of presiding over the chamber while drunk and demanded that he resign.
  • The House General Investigating Committee revealed it had been investigating Paxton in secret since March.
  • The committee heard a three-hour presentation from its investigators detailing allegations of corruption against the attorney general.
  • The committee’s three Republicans and two Democrats voted to forward 20 articles of impeachment to the full House.

Paxton, who was comfortably elected to a third term last year, made a rare appearance before assembled reporters Friday to criticize the process, saying he was not given a chance to present favorable evidence. He called impeachment an effort by Democrats and “liberal” Republicans to remove him from office, violating the will of voters and sidelining an effective warrior against Biden administration policies.

“The corrupt politicians in the Texas House are demonstrating that blind loyalty to Speaker Dade Phelan is more important than upholding their oath of office,” Paxton said. He added, “They are showcasing their absolute contempt for the electoral process.”

Many of the articles of impeachment focused on allegations that Paxton had repeatedly abused his powers of office to help a political donor and friend, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.

In fall 2020, eight top deputies in the attorney general’s office approached federal and state investigators to report their concerns about Paxton’s relationship with Paul.

All eight quit or were fired in the following months, and most of the details of their allegations against Paxton were revealed in a lawsuit by four former executives who claim they were fired — in violation of the Texas Whistleblower Act — in retaliation for reporting Paxton to the authorities. Paxton’s bid to dismiss the lawsuit is awaiting action by the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals.

According to the lawsuit, the whistleblowers accused Paxton of engaging in a series of “intense and bizarre” actions to help Paul, including intervening in an open-records case to help Paul gain documents from federal and state investigations into the real estate investor’s businesses. They also accused Paxton of directing his agency to intervene in a lawsuit between Paul and a charity, pushing through a rushed legal opinion to help Paul avoid a pending foreclosure sale on properties and ignoring agency rules to hire an outside lawyer to pursue an investigation helpful to Paul’s businesses.

In return, the whistleblower lawsuit alleged, Paul paid for all or part of a major renovation of a home Paxton owns in Austin. Paul also helped Paxton keep an extramarital affair quiet by employing the woman Paxton had been seeing, the lawsuit said, adding that the attorney general may also have been motivated by a $25,000 contribution Paul made to Paxton’s campaign in 2018.

In their report to the House General Investigating Committee on Wednesday, the panel’s investigators concluded that Paxton may have committed numerous crimes and violated his oath of office.

Investigators said possible felonies included abuse of official capacity by, among other actions, diverting staff time to help Paul at a labor cost of at least $72,000; misuse of official information by possibly helping Paul gain access to investigative documents; and retaliation and official oppression by firing employees who complained of Paxton’s actions to the FBI.

The articles of impeachment accused Paxton of accepting bribes, disregarding his official duties and misapplying public resources to help Paul.

The articles also referred to felony charges of securities fraud, and one felony count of failing to register with state securities officials, that have been pending against Paxton since 2015, months after he took office as attorney general. The fraud charges stem from Paxton’s work in 2011 to solicit investors in Servergy Inc. without disclosing that the McKinney company was paying him for the work.

The impeachment articles also accused Paxton of obstruction of justice by acting to delay the criminal cases with legal challenges and because a Paxton donor pursued legal action that limited the pay to prosecutors in the case, causing further delays “to Paxton’s advantage.”

Taken in total, the accusations showed a pattern of dereliction of duty in violation of the Texas Constitution, Paxton’s oaths of office and state laws against public officials acting against the public’s interest, the impeachment resolution said.

“Paxton engaged in misconduct, private or public, of such character as to indicate his unfitness for office,” the articles said.

An attorney general had never before been impeached by the Legislature, an extraordinary step that lawmakers have reserved for public officials who faced serious allegations of misconduct. Only two Texas officials have been removed from office by Senate conviction, Gov. James Ferguson in 1917 and District Judge O.P. Carrillo in 1975.

If Paxton is to survive, he will need to secure the support of 11 senators. With the 12 Democratic senators likely to support his removal, votes for acquittal would need to come from the 19 Republican members.

None has publicly defended Paxton. In a television interview Thursday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, said merely that he believed senators would be responsible jurors and “do their duty.”

A complicating factor is Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney), Paxton’s wife. State law requires all senators to attend an impeachment trial, though whether she will recuse herself from voting is unclear.

Paxton’s political base lies in the far-right faction of the Republican Party, where he has positioned himself as a champion of conservative causes and a thorn in the side of Democratic President Joe Biden. Paxton has criticized his opponents as RINOs (Republicans in name only) who “want nothing more than to sabotage our legal challenges to Biden’s extremist agenda by taking me out.”

He also retained the backing of the state Republican Party, led by former state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, who frequently attacks Republicans he considers to be insufficiently conservative. On Friday, Rinadi said the impeachment was Phelan’s fault for allowing Democrats to have too much influence in the House.

“The impeachment proceedings against the Attorney General are but the latest front in the Texas House’s war against Republicans to stop the conservative direction of her state,” Rinaldi said in a statement.

Paxton also has maintained a close relationship with Trump and filed an unsuccessful U.S. Supreme Court challenge to the 2020 presidential election. Paxton also spoke at Trump’s rally on Jan. 6, 2021, shortly before the president’s supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol.

Related:

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Zach Despart’s staff photo

Zach Despart

[email protected]

@zachdespart

James Barragán’s staff photo

James Barragán

[email protected]

@James_Barragan

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The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

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