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Senate GOP urges Supreme Court to uphold DOMA

Brief says anti-gay law removes ‘incentive’ for states to legalize same-sex marriage

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United States Senate, Republican Party, Kentucky, Iowa, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Grassley, gay news, Washington Blade
United States Senate, Republican Party, Utah, Kentucky, Iowa, Orrin Hatch, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Grassley, gay news, Washington Blade

(from left) Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are among the Republicans urging the Supreme Court to uphold DOMA (Photos public domain)

Senate Republicans are arguing the Defense of Marriage Act should be upheld as constitutional because withholding federal benefits from gay couples discourages states from legalizing same-sex marriage.

The 30-page friend-of-the-court brief, filed before the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 29, argues that Section 3 of DOMA promotes the restriction of marriage to one man, one man while by “removing an incentive” to change state law.

“The prospect of obtaining numerous federal benefits for same-sex couples could be a tremendous weapon in the arsenal of those who would seek to gain recognition of same-sex marriage at the state level,” the brief states. “It would be particularly tempting for courts to recognize same-sex marriage in order to award federal benefits to sympathetic plaintiffs.”

The brief was filed in the case of Windsor v. United States on behalf of 10 Senate Republicans: Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

Grassley’s participation in the brief is notable because the state he represents in the U.S. Senate, Iowa, is among the nine where same-sex marriage is legal. Also of note are the scant 10 signatures on the brief, which falls short of even one-fourth of the 45 members of the Senate GOP caucus.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said the brief’s argument that DOMA should be upheld to discourage efforts to legalize same-sex marriage at the state level demonstrates how “arguments made by our opponents get more tortured with every passing day.”

“This is a great example of how far down the rabbit hole they have to go to find justifications for discrimination,” Sainz said. “In essence, the senators are arguing that committed and loving gay and lesbian couples want to get married just for the benefits. Not only is it a ridiculous argument, it’s an affront to our humanity and any reasonable American would see it as such.”

The brief has three main arguments for why DOMA should be upheld: 1) DOMA didn’t change federal law, but reaffirmed the existing definition of marriage; 2) DOMA promotes a government interest in ensuring uniformity in existing law on marriage; and 3) DOMA ensures federal benefits won’t be used to “undermine traditional marriage” at the state level.

Additionally, the brief notes that one of the friends of the court, Hatch, was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time DOMA was signed into law and received assurances from the Justice Department the measure would be constitutional. The Obama administration has since said the law violates the U.S. Constitution, and won’t defend the law in court.

“If the Department believed that there was an inadequate federal interest to justify DOMA, the time to speak was in 1996, when Congress gave careful consideration to the need for DOMA,” the brief states. “Rather than urging the courts to give appropriate deference to an Act of Congress, as befits its proper role in our system of government, the Department now groundlessly impugns the motives of the overwhelming bipartisan majority that supported DOMA.”

The brief also disputes the notion that Congress passed DOMA in 1996 out of animus of the basis of the bipartisan support the measure enjoyed at the time, including from then-President Bill Clinton, who signed the measure into law. Clinton has since called for repeal of DOMA.

“The fact that DOMA passed both houses of Congress with overwhelming support across the political spectrum, and was signed by into law by President Clinton, further undercuts any attempt to characterize it as the result of unconstitutional ‘animus,'” the brief states. “Many DOMA supporters were on record as opposing discrimination against gays and lesbians.”

The attorney who signed the brief is Michael Stern, an attorney based in Fairfax, Va., who’s contributed to Republican political campaigns.

[h/t] Equality on Trial

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State Department

State Department travel advisory warns of potential anti-LGBTQ violence

FBI issued similar warning this week

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(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The State Department on Friday issued a worldwide travel advisory that warns of potential violence against LGBTQ people and LGBTQ-specific events.

“Due to the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations, or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests, the Department of State advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution,” reads the advisory. “The Department of State is aware of the increased potential for foreign terrorist organization-inspired violence against LGBTQI+ persons and events and advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution.”  

The advisory further urges U.S. citizens to:

  • Stay alert in locations frequented by tourists, including Pride celebrations and venues frequented by LGBTQI+ persons.
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive information and alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency overseas.
  • Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Homeland Security Investigations earlier this week issued a similar advisory.

The advisory notes June 12 will mark eight years since the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

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The White House

White House acknowledges IDAHOBiT, reiterates support for global LGBTQ rights

WHO on May 17, 1990, declassified homosexuality as a mental illness

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Pride flags fly from an apartment's terrace in Warsaw, Poland, on April 11, 2024. The International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia commemorates the World Health Organization's declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Biden-Harris administration on Friday used the annual International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia to reiterate its support of LGBTQ and intersex rights around the world.

“On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, my administration stands in support and solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) people around the world as they seek to live full lives, free from violence and discrimination,” said President Joe Biden in a statement. “This is a matter of human rights, plain and simple.” 

“The United States applauds those individuals and groups worldwide working to defend the rights of LGBTQI+ people wherever they are under threat,” he added. “We are grateful for the contributions that LGBTQI+ people make every day across our nation.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Biden.

“On this day, we reflect upon the violence and discrimination lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons worldwide suffer and re-commit ourselves to opposing these acts,” said Blinken in his own statement. “This year, like every year, we state unequivocally: LGBTQI+ persons deserve recognition of their universal human rights and human dignity.” 

IDAHOBiT commemorates the World Health Organization’s declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder on May 17, 1990.

Blinken in his statement notes LGBTQ and intersex people around the world “continue to face insidious forms of stigma and discrimination.”

Dominica last month became the latest country to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in May 2023 signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that, among other things, contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

“Even as more countries make meaningful advancements towards full equality; LGBTQI+ persons continue to be sentenced to death for daring to live their sexual orientation or gender identity, subjected to coercive conversion ‘therapies’ and ‘normalization’ surgeries, discriminated against while receiving health services, restricted from exercising fundamental freedoms, and denied the dignity of same-sex partnership and fulfillment of family,” said Blinken. 

“As we reflect upon the injustices that LGBTQI+ persons and their allies endure, we must not forget that today is fundamentally a day of action,” he added. “On this day and every day, the United States stands with LGBTQI+ persons around the world. We will continue to advocate for the rights of LGBTQI+ persons not just because we have a moral imperative to do so, but because it helps to strengthen democracy, bolster national security, and promote global health and economic development.”

The Tonga Leitis Association is among the myriad LGBTQ and intersex rights groups around the world that acknowledged IDAHOBiT.

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Federal Government

Biden-Harris administration takes major step toward reclassifying marijuana

New regulations could lessen criminal penalties for cannabis

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President Joe Biden discusses his administration's move toward reforming drug policy on cannabis (Screen capture: X)

The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday took a major step toward loosening the federal government’s regulation of marijuana by issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to the Drug Enforcement Administration, which outlines a proposal to reclassify it under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

The move comes pursuant to the Biden-Harris administration’s April 30 announcement of plans to recategorize cannabis as a Schedule III substance, which could substantially lessen the criminal penalties for those convicted of using, possessing, selling, distributing, or cultivating the drug.

A 60-day public comment period will begin after the NPRM is published on the Federal Register, along with a concurrent review of the proposed regulatory reforms by an administrative law judge assigned by the DEA.

Since the CSA was passed in 1971, cannabis has been listed under Schedule I, the category reserved for drugs that are considered to be the most dangerous and lacking any currently accepted medical use in the U.S.

In a press release, a senior administration official noted that “marijuana is currently classified higher than fentanyl and meth – the drugs driving our Nation’s overdose epidemic.”

President Joe Biden posted a video on X in which he said the proposal to house cannabis under the Schedule III regulatory regime constitutes “an important move towards reversing longstanding inequities.”

“Today’s announcement builds on the work we’ve already done to pardon a record number of federal offenses for simple possession of marijuana,” the president said. “It adds to the action we’ve taken to lift barriers to housing, employment, small business loans, and more for tens of thousands of Americans.”

“Look folks no one should be in jail for merely using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said. “Period.”

The president added, “Far too many lives have been upended because of a failed approach to marijuana and I’m committed to righting those wrongs. You have my word on it.”

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