Connect with us

Politics

House panel adopts ‘conscience’ amendment to defense bill

Measure puts burden on Pentagon to prove harassment causes ‘actual harm’

Published

on

United States Capitol Building, dome, gay news, Washington Blade
United States Capitol Building, dome, gay news, Washington Blade

A House panel approved an amendment that would make it easier for troops to harass their gay colleagues. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A House panel on Wednesday approved as part of major defense legislation an amendment that would make it easier for troops to harass their gay comrades without fear of reprisal.

The amendment, introduced by Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), was approved by the Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee by a vote of 33-26 as part of the fiscal year 2014 defense authorization bill.

Fleming’s measure would expand the “conscience provision” that already exists in defense law. It would protect discriminatory speech and actions and leave commanders with no recourse against prejudicial conduct when it occurs in their units.

Further, the measure requires the Pentagon to implement regulations within 120 days after the bill becomes law. The defense secretary must consult with “official military faith-group representatives who endorse military chaplains” before the regulations are issued.

President Obama signed the existing “conscience provision” under Section 533 as part of the Fiscal Year 2013 Defense Authorization Act. At the time of the signing, Obama called it “unnecessary” and said he was signing the defense package under assurances the Pentagon wouldn’t “permit or condone discriminatory actions that compromise good order and discipline or otherwise violate military codes of conduct.”

LGBT groups expressed disappointment over the adoption of the amendment and said it reflects a continued discontent among those who opposed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, said “it is disappointing” the House panel approved “this dangerous amendment” as part of the defense authorization bill.

“It is, quite frankly, puzzling why a majority of members on this committee would support a measure that has the potential to make it more difficult for commanders to responsibly deal with problems regarding conduct that undermines longstanding prohibitions against harassment,” Thompson said.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, expressed a similar sentiment.

“Let’s face it — this amendment is simply another attack by those who still oppose the successful repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and continue to look for ways to allow discrimination in our Armed Forces,” Cole-Schwartz said. “This amendment will expand a standard in the law that could allow religion to serve as a proxy for discrimination which clearly harms unit cohesion and military readiness.”

Allyson Robinson, executive director the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN and Army veteran, expressed opposition to the amendment because, among other things, the bill would undermine the authority of military commanders.

“This amendment takes an authority this nation has entrusted to commanders in the field since its founding – the authority to exercise appropriate control over their troops’ ‘actions or speech’ to maintain good order and discipline – and puts it in the hands of politicians in Washington,” Robinson said. “As someone who has led soldiers in the field, I can tell you that is an untenable situation.”

According to OutServe-SLDN, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), top Democrat on the committee, introduced and withdrew key elements of the Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act (MSET) that would ensure “equal benefits, recognition, and support for all military spouses.”

Given the Republican majority on the panel, the measure would have likely failed if Smith had brought up the measure for a vote.

Robinson said Smith’s action serves a reminder that gay service members are unable to receive many spousal benefits — including health and pension benefits — because of the Defense of Marriage Act.

“This important gesture is a reminder that the families of gay and lesbian service members are still not treated equally and that the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ did not impact that reality,” Robinson said. “Congressman Smith is a tenacious fighter for equality in our military and for our troops and we are grateful for all his work to that end.”

The Blade will provide a roll call vote on the Fleming amendment soon.

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

Congress

House GOP sinks their own spending bill, Dems object to anti-LGBTQ riders

Vote was 216-212

Published

on

U.S. Capitol
U.S. Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A group of four hardline House Republicans on Thursday joined Democratic colleagues to sink their own spending bill, a $886 billion military appropriations package full of riders from GOP members that include anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ provisions.

The 216-212 vote raised the likelihood of a government shutdown if lawmakers are unable to forge a path forward before the end of September.

“Instead of decreasing the chance of a shutdown, Speaker McCarthy is actually increasing it by wasting time on extremist proposals that cannot become law in the Senate,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

His counterpart in the House, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), expressed frustration with his own caucus, characterizing the impasse he has reached with colleagues as “frustrating in the sense that I don’t understand why anybody votes against bringing the idea and having the debate.”

“And then you got all the amendments if you don’t like the bill,” he continued. “This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down — it doesn’t work.”

A group of 155 House Democrats on Thursday issued a letter objecting to anti-LGBTQ provisions in the bill, the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, addressing the message to U.S. Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chair and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and U.S. Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chair and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

The effort was led by Congressional Equality Caucus Chair U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and the co-chairs of the Caucus’s Transgender Equality Task Force, U.S. Reps. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).

Specifically, the letter argues several anti-equality amendments would “actively target LGBTQ+ service members and LGBTQ+ dependents and threaten the recruitment, retention, and readiness of our Armed Forces.”

Among these are riders prohibiting coverage of gender affirming healthcare interventions for service members and their dependents; banning LGBTQ Pride flags, drag shows and other events; and restricting funding for certain books in schools operated by the Department of Defense Education Activity.

Continue Reading

Congress

Senate confirms federal judge who fought for marriage equality as a lawyer

Three Republicans voted for Rita Lin’s nomination

Published

on

Judge Rita Lin (Photo credit: University of California, San Francisco School of Law)

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday voted 52-45 to confirm Rita Lin’s nomination by President Joe Biden to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The first Chinese American woman to serve in the role, Lin previously fought for marriage equality as an attorney in private practice with the multinational firm Morrison and Foerster.

As co-counsel in a 2012 case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court, she secured the first ruling striking down the law, which proscribed marriage as exclusively heterosexual unions, since President Obama announced his administration would no longer defend it.

The Senate’s vote to confirm Lin was supported by all present Democratic members and three Republicans: U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

Last year, during hearings for her nomination in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) objected to an article she wrote in 1998 while a junior at Harvard University calling members of the Christian Coalition “bigots.”

The Christian Coalition was founded by the late Christian media mogul Pat Robertson, who attracted controversy throughout his life and career for making sexist, homophobic and racist remarks.

Lin was appointed as a judge in the San Francisco Superior Court in 2018, and she currently presides over felony and misdemeanor criminal trials. She previously served as an Assistant United States Attorney in San Francisco.

Continue Reading

Politics

Wexton, ardent LGBTQ ally, will not seek re-election

Congresswoman diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy

Published

on

U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) and Virginia Del. Danica Roem (D-13) (Photo courtesy of Danica Roem)

U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) announced on Monday she will not seek reelection after receiving a diagnosis of progressive supranuclear palsy, a neurological disorder that the congresswoman described in a statement as “Parkinson’s on steroids.”

“I’m heartbroken to have to give up something I have loved after so many years of serving my community,” she said. “But taking into consideration the prognosis for my health over the coming years, I have made the decision not to seek reelection once my term is complete and instead spend my valued time with Andrew, our boys, and my friends and loved ones.”

A vice-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus who was formerly a co-chair of its Transgender Equality Task Force, Wexton has been a staunch ally of the LGBTQ community since her first election to Congress in 2018 and during previous five-year tenure in the Virginia State Senate.

“.@RepWexton is a strong ally to LGBTQI+ people,” the Caucus posted on X. “We extend our support to her & her family during this time and thank her for championing LGBTQI+ equality.”

“On my lowest days, she’s quite literally been a shoulder to cry on, and on my best days, she was the second person I told about my engagement last year,” Virginia Del. Danica Roem (D-13) told the Washington Blade on Monday.

The congresswoman is “a role model, mentor and genuine public servant whose friendship and advocacy means the world to me,” said Roem, who is the first openly trans representative to serve in any state legislature and will be the first in Virginia’s State Senate if she is elected to the newly drawn 30th district seat next year.

“I spent so many years closeted in part because of the fear and loathing perpetuated by elected officials toward LGBTQ people in Northern Virginia broadly and greater Prince William [County] specifically that made for a hostile, unwelcoming environment,” she said.

“To go from that to having such outspoken, fearless representation from my member of Congress in Rep. Jennifer Wexton hasn’t so much been a breath of fresh air as much as a completely new biosphere,” Roem said.

She added, “I’m so grateful to her for everything she’s done and the example of inclusivity she’s set for her constituents.”

Roem pointed the Blade to an article in the Washington Post entitled, “How Jennifer Wexton became the ‘patron saint of the transgender community,’” which details the ways in which LGBTQ rights “with an emphasis on the transgender community” had become Wexton’s “signature issue” just “six months into her first term.”

In fact, on the day she took office, the congresswoman became only the second member to fly a transgender Pride flag outside her office.

Equality Virginia, the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, also noted Wexton’s advocacy for the community in a post Monday on X: “Thank you @RepWexton for being a tireless advocate for LGBTQ+ people in the General Assembly and in Congress.”

“You’ve made our commonwealth a better place,” the group wrote, adding, “we’re sending our love and strength to you, your family and your entire team.”

“In 2018, this state senator I called my legislative role model and looked up to so much as a first-year delegate, came over for dinner crepes to share her wisdom, humor and guidance,” Roem said on X. “Five years later, Rep. @JenniferWexton is still a mentor, friend and champion for NOVA.”

The Washington Post reported Wexton’s planned departure means her seat representing Virginia’s 10th Congressional District could be vulnerable in next year’s elections, as it was held by Republicans for 40 years prior to the congresswoman’s defeat of GOP incumbent Barbara Comstock in 2018.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular