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Chafee: Same-sex marriage is ‘long overdue’ in R.I.

Rhode Island House expected to vote on issue by end of this month



Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Rhode Island, Gay Marriage
Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island, gay news, Washington Blade

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee speaks at a press conference on Monday that announced a coalition of groups in support of the state’s same-sex marriage law. (Photo courtesy of Christian Vareika)

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Monday said that extending marriage rights to same-sex couples is consistent with the civil and religious liberties his state’s founding fathers sought more than three centuries ago.

“First of all, it’s again coming back here in Rhode Island with another effort to pass what we should have passed a long time ago, considering our history as the first really to have tolerance in the colonies of the New World,” the governor told the Washington Blade a few hours after he joined other elected officials and advocates at a Providence church where they announced a coalition in support of the same-sex marriage bills state Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Cranston) and lesbian state Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket) introduced earlier this month. “Roger Williams fled persecution and then enshrined here in 1663 in a royal charter granted by King Charles II, really the first liberties in civil and religious areas ever not only in the New World, but in the world. We’re celebrating the 350th anniversary of that 1663 charter this year, so we’re all getting reacquainted with those liberties that granted those many years ago.”

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the same-sex marriage bill later today.

Chafee, who signed Rhode Island’s civil unions bill into law in 2011 in spite of his own misgivings about it, signed an executive order last year ordering state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut and other jurisdictions. In spite of this mandate, Rhode Island remains the only New England state in which gays and lesbians cannot tie the knot.

“So many of us feel that this is long overdue here in Rhode Island the fact we’re trailing other New England states in passing marriage equality is added incentive to get it done this year on the 350th anniversary of the charter,” the governor said.

Chafee, a former Republican U.S. senator who became an independent before his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, spoke with the Blade less than a week after White House spokesperson Shin Inouye reaffirmed President Obama’s support of nuptials for gays and lesbians in response to a question about Rhode Island’s same-sex bills. Inouye also told the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper late last month that the president would vote for a same-sex marriage bill in the Illinois State Legislature if he were still a member of it.

Obama’s re-election campaign in late October urged voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington to support same-sex marriage referenda in their respective states. It also urged Minnesotans earlier in the year to vote against a proposal that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman in their state’s constitution.

All three same-sex marriage referenda passed on Nov. 6, while Minnesota voters struck down the proposed constitutional amendment that would have banned nuptials for gays and lesbians in their state.

“Well you know better than I do what’s happening around the country, especially in the 2012 elections in the referenda that were out there and the success marriage equality had,” Chafee said in response to whether nuptials for same-sex couples in Rhode Island would resonate beyond New England. “I don’t know if it’s too earth-shattering when Rhode Island finally gets on board, but being a very heavily Roman Catholic state — we’re the most heavily Roman Catholic state in the country — that message would be important, that even our Roman Catholics here support marriage equality. And that is true.”

Gay House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) said earlier this month he remains committed to bringing the same-sex marriage measure to a full vote in his chamber by the end of January. Though she is opposed to nuptials for gays and lesbians, Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Newport,) has also pledged to allow a vote on the issue in the Senate Judiciary Committee once the House approves it.

“They’re on the fast-track in the House,” Chafee said. “Here in Rhode Island in the Senate we’re counting the noses. I would hope that they deal with it quickly and let’s move on to the economic issues and other issues. I see this is also is an economic issue, but let’s pass this and I’ll sign it and we’ll tackle some of the more thornier issues out there.”

Chafee further referenced Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, who was then-Senate President Pro Tempore of his state’s legislature in 2009 when his chamber voted 26-4 to approve a same-sex marriage bill, in spite of predictions that the margin would have been far closer.

“He said, let’s just call the roll. Just call the roll. Stop hemming and hawing and it was 26-4,” Chafee said. “That was back in 2009. I would think it would be even stronger here now. Call the roll. And that’s what I said at the press conference: Call the roll on history; Call the role on the rights of our gay, lesbian friends and neighbors and loved ones; call the roll on the economy and the economic issues that are important here.”


The White House

White House hosts roundtable with transgender youth

Friday was International Transgender Day of Visibility



Upwards of 1,000 people took part in the March for Queer and Trans Youth Autonomy in D.C. on March 31, 2023. The White House on the same day held a roundtable with young trans and nonbinary people. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The White House said in a statement released Saturday said Presidential Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy “hosted a roundtable at the White House Friday about the joys, hopes and challenges that transgender children are experiencing.”

The roundtable took place on International Transgender Day of Visibility, an annual event occurring on March 31 dedicated to celebrating trans people and raising awareness of discrimination faced by trans people worldwide, as well as a celebration of their contributions to society.

This year’s Transgender Day of Visibility was one of the largest in years.

Huge crowds gathered in cities across the U.S. in celebrations of visibility and protest as over 450 bills that target queer and trans youth are under consideration or have been passed by state legislatures.

“Transgender kids and their parents traveled to the White House from states that have attacked the rights of transgender kids, including Arizona, Texas and Virginia, and shared the devastating effects these political attacks are having on their mental health and wellbeing,” reads a White House readout of the roundtable. 

“As one round table participant shared, it feels scary when the politicians elected to represent you don’t care about your wellbeing. Families participating in today’s roundtable also highlighted that transgender kids can thrive when parents love and affirm their transgender children, and when transgender kids have access to the support they need at school and in their communities,” it notes. “Ambassador Rice and Dr. Murthy reiterated the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to standing up for the rights of transgender kids and their parents, and to challenging state laws that harm transgender kids. They also thanked the families for their unwavering advocacy and bravery in challenging these discriminatory laws.”

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Fla. lawmakers pass bill to expand ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law

Hundreds of students protested in Tallahassee



More than 150 students protest Florida's "Don't Say Gay" expansion bill in Tallahassee, Fla., on March 31, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Equality Florida)

On International Transgender Day of Visibility, hundreds of students from across Florida descended on the Capitol to protest the legislature’s fast-tracking of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ agenda of book banning and classroom censorship and assaults on academic and medical freedom.

Buses arrived from Central and South Florida in a collaboration between high school, college and university students called the Student Unity Coalition.

Organizers marched the coalition from Florida State University campus into the halls of the Capitol building just as the House of Representatives voted 77-35 in favor of House Bill 1069, which would expand the “Don’t Say Gay” law’s censorship provisions through 8th grade, ban parents from requiring the school system use their child’s correct pronouns, and escalating book bans, allowing one person from anywhere in the nation to challenge a book in a Florida school, prompting its immediate removal pending a lengthy review.

“The students who mobilized in the hundreds today sent a clear message about the Florida they want to grow up in,” said Equality Florida Senior Political Director Joe Saunders. “They want a Florida that values freedom — real freedom. Free states don’t ban books. Free states don’t censor LGBTQ people from society or strip parents of their right to ensure their child is respected in school. Students and families across Florida are fed up with this governor’s agenda that has put a target on the backs of LGBTQ people. Shame on DeSantis’ legislative cronies for peddling more anti-LGBTQ lies on the House floor today and ramming through an expansion of the censorship policies that have emptied bookshelves across the state and wreaked havoc on our schools. Shame on them for ignoring the voices outside demanding a state that respects all families and protects all students.”

House passage of HB 1069 comes as last year’s “Don’t Say Gay” law wreaks havoc on Florida’s schools and drives educators and families from the state. DeSantis’ Florida has become synonymous with the sweeping book bans that are targeting books with LBGTQ characters or Black history themes, including “The Life of Rosa Parks” and “And Tango Makes Three.” Students’ graduation speeches have been censored.

Rainbow Safe Space stickers have been peeled from classroom windows. Districts have canceled long standing after school events and refused to recognize LGBTQ History Month.

The rampant right wing censorship has exacerbated Florida’s exodus of educators, with vacant teacher positions ballooning to more than 8,000, and, according to a recent survey from the Williams Institute, has led a majority of LGBTQ parents in the state to consider leaving Florida altogether.

On Thursday, parents and educators held a joint press conference outside the House chamber to decry this legislation and other proposals that would strip them, their students, and their families of the rights to academic and medical freedom.

That same day, Republicans lawmakers rejected numerous reasonable amendments to House Bill 1069, including a Parental Rights amendment by state Rep. Rita Harris that would have allowed parents to write a letter instructing schools on what pronouns their child should be addressed with, a clarifying amendment from state Rep. Ashley Gantt that would have finally defined the term “classroom instruction,” which bill sponsor state Rep. Stan McClain acknowledged has been left undefined and vague, and a marriage equality amendment by state Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby that would have struck outdated and bigoted sex education language that mandates instruction on the benefits of “monogamous, heterosexual marriage.”

The more than 150 high school and college students who rallied in Tallahassee filled the Capitol rotunda just before 1 p.m. ET, with their chants of “this is what democracy looks like” temporarily interrupting a disinformation-filled rant by GOP Representative, and sponsor of the bill to criminalize medical care for transgender youth, Ralph Massullo.

The “Don’t Say Gay” expansion bill’s Senate version, Senate Bill 1320, will move next to its final committee, Fiscal Policy.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Justice Department appeals federal judge’s ACA ruling

Decision impacts PrEP, other preventative health services



The Pride flag over the Justice Department's D.C. headquarters (Photo courtesy of the Justice Department)

Justice Department attorneys filed a notice of appeal Friday with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services after U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that employers cannot be forced to cover specified preventive health care services under the Affordable Care Act.

Thursday’s ruling means that more than 150 million Americans on employer-sponsored health plans will lose some cost-free coverage for immunizations, contraception, cancer screenings and PrEP.

O’Connor’s ruling struck down the recommendations that have been issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force regarding the preventive care treatments provisions required by the ACA directing insurers provide at no cost to the patient.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre released a statement on the Justice Department decision to appeal:

“The president is glad to see the Department of Justice is appealing the judge’s decision, which blocks a key provision of the Affordable Care Act that has ensured free access to preventive health care for 150 million Americans. This case is yet another attack on the Affordable Care Act, which has been the law of the land for 13 years and survived three challenges before the Supreme Court.
Preventive care saves lives, saves families money, and protects and improves our health. Because of the ACA, millions of Americans have access to free cancer and heart disease screenings. This decision threatens to jeopardize critical care.
The administration will continue to fight to improve health care and make it more affordable for hard-working families, even in the face of attacks from special interests.”

AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein decried O’Connor’s ruling saying:

“Stripping away access to preventive care will hurt tens of millions of Americans. These services are essential, and eliminating them will have dangerous consequences. While we expect this unconstitutional ruling ultimately will fail, the decision creates uncertainty and is a threat to public health.

“With this devastating ruling, a Trump-appointed judge placed the health of millions of Americans in extreme danger, based on an extremist political agenda. Undermining screenings and treatment for cancer, blood pressure, pregnancy, and mental health doesn’t just hurt individuals — it damages the health of the entire country,” California state Sen. Scott Wiener said.

“The effect of this decision on HIV prevention will be disastrous. In recent years, we’ve made incredible progress reducing the number of new HIV infections, largely because hundreds of thousands of people are now taking PrEP, an HIV prevention drug proven to be essentially 100 percent effective. This decision reverses that progress by allowing health plans to charge patients through the nose for this life-saving medication, raising barriers to access for the communities of LGBTQ people and people of color most at risk. Judge O’Connor will soon have thousands of new HIV cases on his conscience,” Wiener added.

Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization, released the following statement from Executive Director Tony Hoang in response to a ruling from O’Connor:

“Judge Reed O’Connor, already having attempted to invalidate the Affordable Care Act as a whole in 2018, has once again issued a ruling that puts the lives of Americans in danger. Preventive care is essential in helping to screen for potential severe health conditions and attempt to mitigate them — this ruling affects screenings for cancer, diabetes, STDs, cardiovascular disease, and so much more.

More than 150 million Americans currently have private insurance with coverage for preventive care under the ACA, yet a partisan judge in Texas is attempting to single handedly rollback access to these basic health care services. Equality California is committed to ensuring that these critical preventive services remain in place for the health of all Americans. We expect an appeal of this decision immediately. 

Thankfully, most health plans in California are unaffected by today’s ruling because existing state law already requires health plans regulated in California to cover preventive services without cost sharing. Today’s ruling may affect a small subset of employer-sponsored health plans that are not regulated by the state.

Equality California is proud to be sponsoring legislation with Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur and Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, AB (Assembly Bill) 1645, which will strengthen existing law and go even further to ensure that Californians have access to essential preventive services, including STD screening and PrEP for HIV prevention. While right-wing judges and politicians are attempting to roll back our rights and inflict harm on LGBTQ+ people, California will continue doubling down to protect the health and safety of our communities.”

Read the notice of appeal here:

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