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Huntsman comes out for marriage equality

Former presidential hopeful urges conservatives to advance rights

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Jon Huntsman, gay news, Washington Blade
Jon Huntsman, gay news, Washington Blade

Jon Huntsman, Jr. came out for marriage equality in an article in the American Conservative. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Calling on fellow conservatives to embrace marriage equality to help rebuild their party, former Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, Jr., came out on Thursday in support of same-sex marriage.

In a column for the American Conservative, Huntsman issued the call for Republicans to support civil marriage for same-sex couples because the party is “at a crossroads” after losing the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections.

“[C]onservatives should start to lead again and push their states to join the nine others that allow all their citizens to marry,” Huntsman writes. “I’ve been married for 29 years. My marriage has been the greatest joy of my life. There is nothing conservative about denying other Americans the ability to forge that same relationship with the person they love.”

As governor of Utah, Huntsman previously came out in support of civil unions even though polling at the time showed 70 percent of people in his state were to opposed to them. During the presidential race, he was seen as the most moderate candidate on LGBT issues among his fellow Republicans, although he told the Washington Blade he supports the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act because it “serves a useful purpose.”

Huntsman emphasizes in his article that he supports civil marriage for same-sex couples and the legalization of marriage rights for gay couples doesn’t mean “any religious group would be forced by the state to recognize relationships that run counter to their conscience.”

“Marriage is not an issue that people rationalize through the abstract lens of the law; rather it is something understood emotionally through one’s own experience with family, neighbors, and friends,” Huntsman continued. “The party of Lincoln should stand with our best tradition of equality and support full civil marriage for all Americans.”

A national leader of the organization known as No Labels, which seeks to encourage political leaders to act in a bipartisan fashion to address the nation’s problems, Huntsman is known for his willingness to reach across the aisle.  Prior to his presidential bid, Huntsman served under President Obama as U.S. ambassador to China.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told the Washington Blade during a news conference on Thursday that he wasn’t aware of Huntsman’s new support for marriage equality, but said it’s in line with Obama’s position and demonstrates the country’s evolution as a whole on LGBT issues.

“I think that what we have seen, and the president has spoken about this, is an evolution, if you will, of views across the country about this issue, about extending rights to LGBT Americans,” Carney said. “And the president feels very strongly about that, as you know. So while this is not news I was aware of, it’s certainly in concert with the president’s views.”

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said Huntsman rightly says the Republican Party needs to realign itself to support same-sex marriage.

“Jon Huntsman is correct: the conservative movement is indeed at a crossroads, and it’s encouraging to see more and more conservative leaders such as Gov. Huntsman walking the road that leads to the right side of history,” Angelo said. “The time is now for the party championing free markets to champion the freedom to marry for all.”

Huntsman isn’t the first former Republican presidential candidate to support same-sex marriage, nor is he the first former Republican governor to do so. Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson came out for marriage equality while still running for the Republican Party nomination. Also, Fred Karger, a gay activist who ran for president last year as a Republican, supported same-sex marriage.

Huntsman’s support for marriage equality is also noteworthy because he’s a Mormon, a religion whose leaders have opposed same-sex marriage and purport that homosexuality is in violation of God’s law.

David Baker, a spokesperson for the LGBT Mormon group Affirmation, praised Huntsman for adding his voice to those in support of marriage equality.

“Affirmation commends former Gov. Huntsman for his support for full civil marriage equality and agree with him that marriage equality is the ‘right thing to do’ as ‘all Americans should be treated equally by the law,'” Baker said. “We firmly believe that marriage equality strengthens the institution of the family and that gay couples and their children deserve every societal and legal protection afforded to straight couples.”

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The White House

Biden, Harris, deliver remarks for White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf among those who spoke

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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris listen as U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.) addresses an audience in the Rose Garden including federal, state and local officials, survivors and family members, and gun violence prevention advocates on Sept. 22, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Wolf)

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) addressed an audience from the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday to honor the establishment of a first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

In a press release Thursday announcing the move, the administration said its aim is to implement and expand the provisions of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act along with those contained in the president’s executive orders targeting issues of gun violence.

Additionally, Biden explained in his remarks, the office will coordinate more support for survivors, families and communities, including mental health services and financial aid; identify new avenues for executive action; and “expand our coalition of partners in states and cities across America” given the need for legislative solutions on the local and state level.

Harris, who will oversee the office, pledged to “use the full power of the federal government to strengthen the coalition of survivors and advocates and students and teachers and elected leaders to save lives and fight for the right of all people to be safe from fear and to be able to live a life where they understand that they are supported in that desire and that right.”

The vice president noted her close experiences with the devastating consequences of gun violence in her work as a federal prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general and in her current role.

Biden’s comments also included highlights of his administration’s accomplishments combatting gun violence and a call to action for Congress to do more. “It’s time again to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” he told lawmakers.

The president also credited the the work of advocates including those who were gathered at the White House on Friday: “all of you here today, all across the country, survivors, families, advocates — especially young people who demand our nation do better to protect all; who protested, organized, voted, and ran for office, and, yes, marched for their lives.”

Taking the stage before introducing Biden, Frost noted that “Right before I was elected to Congress, I served as the national organizing director for March for Our Lives, a movement that inspired young people across the nation to demand safe communities.”

“The president understands that this issue especially for young people, especially for marginalized communities, is a matter of survival,” the congressman said. And the formation of this office, “comes from Pulse to Parkland,” he said, adding, “we fight because we love.”

Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, which was America’s second deadliest mass shooting and the deadliest against the LGBTQ community, shared a comment with the Washington Blade after Friday’s ceremony:

“Seven years ago, when my best friends and 47 others were murdered at our safe place — Pulse Nightclub — we promised to honor them with action. This is what that looks like. This deep investment in the fight to end gun violence matters, and I cannot wait to see Vice President Harris lead these efforts. We can blaze the path toward a future free of gun violence. And today marked an important step in that direction.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge: drag is ‘vulgar and lewd,’ ‘sexualized conduct’

Ruling ‘bristles with hostility toward LGBTQ people’

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J. Marvin Jones Federal Building, U.S. Courthouse in Amarillo, Texas (Photo: Library of Congress)

Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a ruling Thursday denying relief to a group of university students who sought to host a drag show over the objections of their school’s president.

A Trump appointed jurist with deep ties to anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion conservative legal activists, Kacsmaryk argued that drag performances probably do not constitute speech protected by the First Amendment.

As Slate Senior Writer Mark Joseph Stern wrote on X, this conclusion “conflicts with decisions from Texas, Florida, Tennessee and Montana which held that drag is constitutionally protected expression.”

“It also bristles with undisguised hostility toward LGBTQ people,” he added.

Kacsmaryk’s 26-page decision describes drag performances as lewd and licentious, obscene and sexually prurient, despite arguments the plaintiffs had presented about the social, political, and artistic merit of this art form.

As the Human Rights Campaign recently wrote, “drag artists and the spaces that host their performances have long served as a communal environment for queer expression.”

The group added, “It is a form of art and entertainment, but, historically, the performances haven’t only served to entertain, but also to truly advance the empowerment and visibility of LGBTQ+ people.”

Nevertheless, anti-LGBTQ conservative activists and organizations have perpetuated conspiracy theories about members of the community targeting children for sexual abuse including by bringing them to drag performances.

Among these is a group with ties to the Proud Boys that was cited by Kacsmaryk in his ruling: Gays Against Groomers, an anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender extremist group, according to the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.

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The White House

Harris to oversee White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Goal is to implement and expand upon legislation, executive actions

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U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, September 2023. (Official White House photograph by Lawrence Jackson)

The White House announced Thursday evening that President Joe Biden on Friday will establish the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris.

The office will focus on implementing and expanding upon executive and legislative actions, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, “to reduce gun violence, which has ravaged communities across the country.”

Serving under Harris will be Stefanie Feldman, “a longtime policy advisor to President Biden on gun violence prevention,” and “leading gun violence prevention advocates Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox.”

“Every time I’ve met with families impacted by gun violence as they mourn their loved ones, and I’ve met with so many throughout the country, they all have the same message for their elected officials: ‘do something,'” Biden said in a statement.

The president noted his signing of last year’s bipartisan gun violence prevention law, a flagship legislative accomplishment for the administration, along with his issuance of more executive actions than any president in history to address this problem.

Calling these “just the first steps,” Biden said the establishment of the White House Office on Gun Violence Prevention will “build upon these measures and keep Americans safe.”

He also urged Congress to do more by passing legislation requiring universal background checks, and baning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

In a statement, Harris said, “This epidemic of gun violence requires urgent leadership to end the fear and trauma that Americans experience every day.”

“The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will play a critical role in implementing President Biden’s and my efforts to reduce violence to the fullest extent under the law,” she said, “while also engaging and encouraging Congressional leaders, state and local leaders, and advocates to come together to build upon the meaningful progress that we have made to save lives.”

“Our promise to the American people is this: we will not stop working to end the epidemic of gun violence in every community, because we do not have a moment, nor a life to spare,” the vice president said.

Then Vice President Biden hugs Brandon J. Wolf as he talks with family members of the victims and survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
Wolf, a Pulse survivor, was recently appointed National Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
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