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Pride celebrations arrive as nation awaits marriage rulings

Supreme Court expected to decide DOMA, Prop 8 cases this month

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Supreme Court, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Hollingsworth vs. Perry, gay news, Washington Blade
Supreme Court, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Hollingsworth vs. Perry, gay news, Washington Blade

Pride celebrations are taking place as the Supreme Court is expected to rule this month on marriage cases. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

This year’s annual LGBT Pride celebrations will have special meaning as they’re taking place in the same month that landmark rulings are expected from the U.S. Supreme Court in cases on marriage equality.

Two cases are currently pending before the Supreme Court: Hollingsworth v. Perry, which is challenging the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, and Windsor v. United States, which is challenging the Defense of Marriage Act.

At this end of this month, the lawsuits could produce a number of outcomes resulting in major changes in marriage laws.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, noted the anticipation of the rulings from the Supreme Court — which would come on the heels of other victories seen in recent months — as LGBT people celebrate Pride.

“We have seen tremendous progress in the past several years and as we celebrate our achievements this Pride season, we are all anxiously awaiting news from the Supreme Court,” Cole-Schwartz said. “The court has the opportunity to write the next chapter of our progress as a community and we are hopeful that there will be more celebrating to come this June.”

The case challenging Prop 8 could produce the greatest range of outcomes: No. 1 on marriage-equality supporters wish list is a ruling that would say on bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional and all 50 states must offer marriage rights for gay couples. Such a broad ruling is deemed unlikely by legal experts and other observers.

Other positive rulings would be more limited in scope. The court could uphold the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision, which was limited to California and said a state can’t offer marriage rights to gay couples and then take them away. The nine justices could also could rule that civil unions and domestic partnership are separate and unequal, requiring the eight states that provide them to offer marriage equality.

Another option one may be for the justices to avoid the issue of constitutionality altogether. One option would be for the Supreme Court to determine that it was incorrect to grant review of the case, leaving the Ninth Circuit decision in place. Another would be to say that proponents of Prop 8 don’t have standing to defend the law in court. This latter option may be the most likely considering the justices’ interest in the standing issue during oral arguments in March.

The options are limited in the DOMA case, although there are several possibilities. The court could strike down DOMA by saying it’s unconstitutional — either on federalism grounds or by saying it violates equal protection for gay couples — which would likely mean the federal government would begin recognizing same-sex marriages throughout the country.

The court has also expressed an interest in the standing issue and hired a court-appointed attorney ,Vicki Jackson, to argue that neither the Obama administration, which has begun litigating against DOMA, nor House Republicans, who have defended it, can take part in the lawsuit. It’s unclear what the outcome would be if court rendered a decision in the DOMA case on standing issues.

Of course, the court could also issue decisions saying Prop 8 or DOMA are constitutional, leaving them in place and forcing LGBT advocates to go to the ballot for the California measure and Congress for DOMA to repeal them.

In either or both cases, the court could rule that laws related to sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny, or a greater assumption they’re unconstitutional. That’s the position held by the Obama administration.

Such a ruling would have an impact on other LGBT-related cases throughout the country, such as those challenging marriage bans or laws restrictive of other rights.

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White House mum on whether Biden raised LGBTQ rights with Putin

Geneva summit took place amid ongoing Chechnya crackdown

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President Biden on June 16, 2021, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

The White House on Wednesday did not say whether President Biden raised Russia’s LGBTQ rights record during his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I told President Putin my agenda is not against Russia or anyone else; it’s for the American people: fighting COVID-19; rebuilding our economy; reestablishing our relationships around the world with our allies and friends; and protecting our people,” Biden told reporters during a press conference that took place after the summit, which took place in Geneva, ended. “That’s my responsibility as president. 
 
“I also told him that no president of the United States could keep faith with the American people if they did not speak out to defend our democratic values, to stand up for the universal rights and fundamental freedoms that all men and women have, in our view,” added Biden. “That’s just part of the DNA of our country.” 

Biden said he told Putin that “human rights is going to always be on the table, I told him.” 

“It’s not about just going after Russia when they violate human rights; it’s about who we are,” said Biden. “How could I be the president of the United States of America and not speak out against the violation of human rights?”

Biden also told reporters the U.S. will continue to “raise our concerns about cases like Alexey Navalny,” a Russian opposition leader who remains in jail.

Navalny last August spent weeks in a coma after he was poisoned with Novichok in the Siberian city of Tomsk. Navalny underwent treatment in Germany before he returned to Russia in January.   

“I made it clear to President Putin that we’ll continue to raise issues of fundamental human rights because that’s what we are, that’s who we are,” Biden told the reporters. “The idea is: ‘We hold these truths self-evident that all men and women … ‘ We haven’t lived up to it completely, but we’ve always widened the arc of commitment and included more and more people.”

Putin in 2013 sparked global outrage when he signed a law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors. Putin in April signed a series of constitutional amendments that, among other things, formally defines marriage as between a man and a woman in Russia.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who is a close Putin ally, and the Kremlin continue to downplay the anti-LGBTQ crackdown in Chechnya.

The State Department in February expressed concern over the fate of two Chechen brothers who were arrested in Russia and returned to their homeland, even though they had fled its anti-LGBTQ crackdown.

The Russian LGBT Network, a Russian LGBTQ rights group, said authorities in Dagestan, a semi-autonomous Russian republic that borders Chechnya, on June 10 kidnapped a bisexual woman who had sought refuge at a shelter for domestic violence survivors. Reports indicate Chechen police officers forced her into a vehicle and drove her back to Chechnya.

The National Security Council before the summit did not respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment about whether Biden planned to raise Russia’s LGBTQ rights record with Putin. A State Department spokesperson referred the Blade to the White House for comment.

Chris Johnson contributed to this article.

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Lesbian, trans Defense nominees sail through confirmation hearings

Biden picks exemplify change after LGBTQ bans lifted

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Two nominees, one lesbian and one transgender, sailed though a breezy confirmation hearing on Wednesday for high-ranking positions at the Defense Department.

Among the five nominees questioned before the Senate Armed Services Committee were Shawn Skelly, who’s transgender and nominated to become assistant secretary of defense for readiness, and Gina Ortiz Jones, who’s a lesbian and nominated to become under secretary of the Air Force.

The LGBTQ nominees for the high-ranking posts stand out in the wake of the Biden administration enacting to reverse the transgender military ban enacted under President Trump, as well as the coming anniversary of the lifting of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Both Jones, a former Air Force pilot, and Skelly, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, served in the U.S. military at times when they would have been discharged due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Jones made a reference to serving under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as part of her opening statement for the confirmation hearing.

“My experience in the Air Force was hindered by the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, yet I to remain undeterred because of my desire to serve our country,” Jones said. “That experience cemented my resolve to ensure anyone ready and able to serve can do so to their full potential and accordingly our country’s fullest potential.”

Annise Parker, CEO of LGBTQ Victory Institute, said in a statement the nominations of the LGBTQ individuals to high-ranking Defense roles is significant.
 
“These two trailblazing nominees demonstrated their deep military expertise and qualifications before the committee and we know their experiences as LGBTQ people will shape their leadership in these critical positions,” Parker said. “Their performance was a powerful testament to the progress our military and nation has made – just one decade after the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ – and is an important moment for LGBTQ service members who served or continue to serve in silence. Their confirmation will transform perceptions of LGBTQ people within the ranks of the U.S. military, but also among the leaders of militaries we work with around the world.”

No member of the committee objected to — or even pointed out — the sexual orientation or gender identity of the nominees. In fact, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who had openly called for codifying the transgender military ban into law as opposed to reversing it, notably recognized Skelly’s gender identity by referring to her as “Ms. Skelly” when addressing her.

Questions, instead, comprised issues related to the U.S. military, including rooting out “extremism” in the military, competition with China, access to care at medical facilities and the U.S. military being the biggest single consumer of fossil fuels.

Skelly, in her opening statement, said she was “simultaneously humbled and inspired” over being nominated for the role as assistant secretary of defense for readiness, which includes being responsible for recruitment, career development, pay and benefits, and oversight of the state of military readiness.

“As a retired Naval flight officer, the importance of the department safety and professional military education programs, and the manner in which they support the readiness of the total force are deeply ingrained in me, and if confirmed, I will ensure they receive the priority and focus they deserve,” Skelly said.

Jones and Skelly are two of three pending LGBTQ nominees for high-ranking Defense positions. The other is Brenda “Sue” Fulton, a lesbian who had advocated for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and was nominated to become assistant secretary of defense for manpower and readiness.

It wasn’t immediately clear why Fulton wasn’t among the nominees questioned on Wednesday even though she was nominated at the same time. The Senate Armed Services Committee didn’t respond Wednesday to the Washington Blade’s request for comment.

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House Republicans block LGBTQ small business credit measure

‘No attack is too low’

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New York Representative Ritchie Torres (Photo Credit: Office of NY Rep. Ritchie Torres)

WASHINGTON – A measure introduced by freshmen New York Representative Ritchie Torres (D15-Bronx) that would ensure that financial institutions are providing LGBTQ-owned small businesses equal access to credit was blocked by the Republican caucus this week.

TorresLGBTQ Business Equal Credit Enforcement and Investment Act, HR 1443, requiring financial institutions to collect data on credit applications by LGBTQ-owned businesses, was stopped from passing in a 248-177 vote Tuesday. The measure required a 2/3rds vote (284) to pass.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a statement after the vote noted, “House Republicans are using Pride Month to attack LGBTQ-owned small businesses. […] Passing this uncontroversial bill to help small businesses stay afloat during a pandemic should be a no-brainer.”

“Sadly, no attack is too low for this House Republican Conference, not even attacking LGBTQ-owned small businesses during Pride Month,” Pelosi added.

The openly gay Ritchie tweeted, “The Republicans in the House voted down my legislation, HR 1443, which would protect LGBTQ-owned businesses from discrimination. A slap in the face to the LGBTQ community right in the heart of Pride Month.”

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