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Obama talks DOMA, gay rights in Africa

POTUS says married gay couples should have fed’l benefits wherever they move

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Barack Obama, Election 2012, gay news, Washington Blade
Barack Obama, Election 2012, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama on Thursday talked about DOMA and gay rights in Africa. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

During his high-profile trip Africa, President Obama said on Thursday he believes the Supreme Court ruling against DOMA should be implemented broadly to provide gay couples the federal benefits of marriage wherever they live in the country, although his administration is still examining the legal implications of the ruling.

Obama made the remarks during a joint news conference with Senegal President Macky Sall that took place in the presidential palace in Dakar. The reporter asked Obama to respond to the DOMA ruling and the state of gay rights in Senegal, where same-sex relations is still criminalized.

With respect to DOMA, Obama said the ruling was “not simply a victory for the LGBT community, it’s a victory for American democracy” and noted he had a phone call with New York widow and lawsuit plaintiff Edith Windsor after the decision was announced.

“I believe at the root of who we are as a people, who we are as Americans is the basic precept that we are all equal under the law,” Obama said. “We believe in basic fairness. And what I think yesterday’s ruling signifies is one more step towards ensuring that those basic principles apply to everybody.”

Amid calls from LGBT advocates for the Obama administration to interpret the decision as broadly as possible to ensure all federal benefits are available to married same-sex couples, Obama said his personal belief is that the maximum amount of benefits should flow.

“It’s my personal belief — but I’m speaking now as a President as opposed to as a lawyer — that if you’ve been married in Massachusetts and you move someplace else, you’re still married, and that under federal law you should be able to obtain the benefits of any lawfully married couple,” Obama said. “But I’m speaking as a President, not a lawyer.”

Obama said prior to the decision, he had already instructed White House counsel to work with lawyers across every federal agency “to start getting a sense” for the implications of administratively applying a rule that says federal benefits apply to all married couples — gay or straight. Anticipating the result, Obama gave assurances the implementation of whatever benefits are available would happen as quickly as possible.

“So we’re going to be evaluating all these issues and making sure that we work through them in a systematic and prompt way, because now that the Supreme Court has spoken it’s important that people who deserve these benefits know that they’re getting them quickly,” Obama said.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said Obama’s words are a good start as HRC looks to the administration for a broad implementation of federal benefits for same-sex couples.

“It’s certainly very positive news,” Sainz said. “This president has been an ardent defender of LGBT people and this is indication of that. We’re looking forward to guidance from the Administration as to how all legally married gay couples will get the same federal benefits.”

In response to the question about the criminalization of homosexuality in Senegal, Obama said the issue didn’t come up in bilateral conversations as he spoke more broadly about his opposition to discrimination in any form.

“But when it comes to how the state treats people, how the law treats people, I believe that everybody has to be treated equally,” Obama said. “I don’t believe in discrimination of any sort. That’s my personal view. And I speak as somebody who obviously comes from a country in which there were times when people were not treated equally under the law, and we had to fight long and hard through a civil rights struggle to make sure that happens.”

Perhaps acknowledging the culture of Senegal, where 96 percent of the population practice Islam, Obama maintained he respects the customs and traditions in different countries.

“The issue of gays and lesbians, and how they’re treated, has come up and has been controversial in many parts of Africa,” Obama said. “So I want the African people just to hear what I believe, and that is that every country, every group of people, every religion have different customs, different traditions.  And when it comes to people’s personal views and their religious faith, et cetera, I think we have to respect the diversity of views that are there.”

In his response to the question, Sall struck a different tone, saying his country won’t decriminalize homosexuality as he maintained his country is very tolerant and doesn’t believe in discrimination.

“We don’t tell anybody that he will not be recruited because he is gay or he will not access a job because his sexual orientation is different,” Sall said. “But we are still not ready to decriminalize homosexuality. I’ve already said it in the past, in our Cabinet meeting it is Senegal’s option, at least for the time being, while we have respect for the rights of homosexuals — but for the time being, we are still not ready to change the law.”

Andre Banks, executive director for the LGBT global equality group All Out, praised Obama for speaking out in favor of equality and amid growing concerns of anti-gay activity in Africa.

“Nigeria and Uganda are threatening to bring in even harsher anti-gay laws that will ruin more lives, and Cameroon is aggressively hunting down and prosecuting people because of who they are and who they love,” Banks said. “Other African nations like Senegal who claim they aren’t ready to end laws that make it a crime to gay need to hear Obama’s words and know the tide of love and equality is rising. Customs and cultures may differ, but there is never a legitimate reason for denying a person equality under the law because of who they are and who they love.”

Frank Mugisha, a gay Uganda activist who has worked against the “Kill the Gays” bill in the country, told the Washington Blade he welcomes Obama’s remarks and thinks they’re significant.

“Some are saying, ‘We don’t need pressure from outside,'” Mugisha said. “For me I think it is important that Obama mentions gay rights on his trip to Africa, if he had not I would be disappointed, Africa has been in the spot light in the recent years on abuse and violation of gay people and any world leader would want to mention that. I do not know why people are OK when world leaders talk about all the other issues in Africa and when they talk about homosexuality then it becomes a problem. Homosexuality like any other rights is a universal human right and any one can speak out against these violations any where any time.”

A partial transcript of the Q&A between the reporter and Obama and Sall follow:

REPORTER:  Thank you, Mr. President.  You called the DOMA ruling a victory for couples everywhere who are seeking equal treatment under the law.  But this leaves unanswered questions for couples in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriage.  And now it’s largely up to you.  Will you direct the government to make sure that federal benefits are extended, like Social Security, to all couples, no matter where they live?  And will you comment generally on the historic nature of yesterday’s rulings?  Also, did you press President Sall to make sure that homosexuality is decriminalized in Senegal?

And, President Sall, may I ask you, sir — thank you, first of all, for your hospitality.  You just said you embrace democracy and freedom.  As this country’s new President, sir, will you work to decriminalize homosexuality in this country?

….

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, first of all, I think the Supreme Court ruling yesterday was not simply a victory for the LGBT community, it’s a victory for American democracy.  I believe at the root of who we are as a people, who we are as Americans is the basic precept that we are all equal under the law.  We believe in basic fairness.  And what I think yesterday’s ruling signifies is one more step towards ensuring that those basic principles apply to everybody.

When I spoke to Ms. Windsor — 83 years old — and I thought about the 40 years of her relationship and her partner, who is now passed, for her to live to see this day where that relationship was the vehicle whereby more people received their rights and are recognized as a testament to the love and commitment that they have made to each other, that was special.  And that’s just a microcosm of what it meant for families and their children all across America.  So it was a proud day I think for America.

Now, as you point out, there are a whole lot of implications that flow from it, because the Supreme Court did not make a blanket ruling that applies nationally, but rather lifted up the ability of states to recognize the dignity and respect of same-sex marriage, and that the federal government couldn’t negate the decision by those states.  We now have to comb through every federal statute.  And although we hadn’t pre-judged what the ruling had been, I had asked my White House Counsel to help work with lawyers across every agency in the federal government to start getting a sense of what statutes would be implicated and what it will mean for us to administratively apply the rule that federal benefits apply to all married couples.

What’s true though is that you still have a whole bunch of states that do not recognize it.  The Supreme Court continues to leave it up to the states to make these decisions.  And we are going to have to go back and do a legal analysis of what that means.  It’s my personal belief — but I’m speaking now as a President as opposed to as a lawyer — that if you’ve been married in Massachusetts and you move someplace else, you’re still married, and that under federal law you should be able to obtain the benefits of any lawfully married couple.  But I’m speaking as a President, not a lawyer.

So we’re going to be evaluating all these issues and making sure that we work through them in a systematic and prompt way, because now that the Supreme Court has spoken it’s important that people who deserve these benefits know that they’re getting them quickly.  And I know that, for example, Chuck Hagel already mentioned some work that the Department of Defense is doing on that front.  And I think we’re going to be seeing that in all the various agencies.

Now, this topic did not come up in the conversation that I had with President Sall in a bilateral meeting.  But let me just make a general statement.  The issue of gays and lesbians, and how they’re treated, has come up and has been controversial in many parts of Africa.  So I want the African people just to hear what I believe, and that is that every country, every group of people, every religion have different customs, different traditions.  And when it comes to people’s personal views and their religious faith, et cetera, I think we have to respect the diversity of views that are there.

But when it comes to how the state treats people, how the law treats people, I believe that everybody has to be treated equally.  I don’t believe in discrimination of any sort.  That’s my personal view.  And I speak as somebody who obviously comes from a country in which there were times when people were not treated equally under the law, and we had to fight long and hard through a civil rights struggle to make sure that happens.

So my basic view is that regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation, when it comes to how the law treats you, how the state treats you — the benefits, the rights and the responsibilities under the law — people should be treated equally.  And that’s a principle that I think applies universally, and the good news is it’s an easy principle to remember.

Every world religion has this basic notion that is embodied in the Golden Rule — treat people the way you want to be treated.  And I think that applies here as well.

PRESIDENT SALL:  (As interpreted.)  Now, on the issue of homosexuality, Mr. President, you did make a long development on this issue.  But you said something very important — general principles which all nations could share, and that is the respect for the human being and non-discrimination.  But these issues are all societal issues basically, and we cannot have a standard model which is applicable to all nations, all countries — you said it, we all have different cultures.  We have different religions.  We have different traditions.  And even in countries where this has been decriminalized and homosexual marriage is allowed, people don’t share the same views.

Senegal, as far as it is concerned, is a very tolerant country which does not discriminate in terms of inalienable rights of the human being.  We don’t tell anybody that he will not be recruited because he is gay or he will not access a job because his sexual orientation is different.  But we are still not ready to decriminalize homosexuality.  I’ve already said it in the past, in our Cabinet meeting it is Senegal’s option, at least for the time being, while we have respect for the rights of homosexuals — but for the time being, we are still not ready to change the law.

But of course this does not mean that we are all homophobic.  But the society has to absolve these issues.  It has to take time to digest them, bringing pressure to bear upon them, on such issues.  It is just like the capital punishment.  In our country, we have abolished it for many years.  In other countries, it is still the order of the day, because the situation in the country requires it.  And we do respect the choice of each country.  But please be assured that Senegal is a country of freedom and homosexuals are not being prosecuted, persecuted.  But we must also show respect for the values and choices of the other Senegalese people.

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Politics

Harris, other political leaders issue statements on Nex Benedict’s death

Nonbinary Okla. teenager died earlier this month

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Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student from Oklahoma, died on Feb. 8 after a fight at their high school. (Family photo)

Vice President Kamala Harris, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt are among the political leaders who have issued statements in recent days about the death of nonbinary teenager Nex Benedict after they were allegedly assaulted in a school bathroom after enduring months of bullying.

The 16-year-old’s death on Feb. 8 sparked outrage and questions about the high school’s response to the altercation, which had occurred the previous day. LGBTQ leaders who include Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson have called for federal investigations by the Justice and Education Departments.

Advocates pointed to the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and policies, particularly targeting transgender and gender-diverse communities, that have escalated in Oklahoma over the past few years, noting that they tend to increase the incidence of bias-motivated hate violence.

In their statements on X, which offered condolences to those mourning Benedict’s death, the vice president and White House press secretary also pledged solidarity with the LGBTQ community, while Pelosi took aim at “the anti-trans fervor fueled by extreme Republicans” and Pocan — who is gay and chairs the Congressional Equality Caucus — promised to keep fighting for “the dignity that nonbinary and trans Americans deserve. ”

Stitt, who in 2022 signed an anti-trans bill prohibiting students from using public school restrooms that do not match the sex listed on their birth certificates, wrote in his statement that “our hearts go out to Nex’s family, classmates, and the Owasso community. The death of any child in an Oklahoma school is a tragedy — and bullies must be held accountable.”

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Michael Knowles targets trans people and LGBTQ families in CPAC address

Pundit defended his infamous anti-trans remarks at last year’s event

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Michael Knowles speaks at CPAC on Feb. 22, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Right-wing commentator Michael Knowles began his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday by briefly addressing the “kerfuffle” over his proclamation during last year’s event that “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely.”

Widely interpreted as a call for violence against transgender people or the trans community, the remarks were denounced at the time by White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who called them “shameful, hateful and dangerous.”

Looking back at the incident, Knowles told the crowd “I stand by the observation that men can’t become women.” The controversy, he said, is evidence that the country “is having an identity crisis” — primarily as a consequence of the “decline of religion in America.”

While “true freedom is a national policy based on what we know in our hearts as morally right,” as ordained by God, Knowles said a worldview that makes space for the recognition of LGBTQ people and their families is based on a “false” notion of freedom that privileges, instead, “liberation from all limits.”

He pointed to same-sex marriage as an example, arguing that marriage does not and cannot include unions between “a couple of men, or a couple of women, or three men and a billy goat, for that matter.”

Additionally, Knowles said, one may not claim the “right” to have a child, because “children are people and no one has a right to another person.” He then veered into criticizing the practice of purchasing “designer babies” on the “open market of the surrogacy industry.”

Medically assisted family planning is a symptom of America’s moral decline that is akin to abortion, Knowles said. “If we have the right to kill babies, surely we have the right to buy and sell them too.”

Knowles argued there are “trade-offs” to understanding freedom as a permission structure to identify oneself outside the cisgender male-female binary, or to build relationships and families that are not centered around heterosexual, procreative unions.

Allowing trans women to use women’s restrooms — or, as he put it, giving “men” the “freedom to use the women’s bathroom,” means that “women lose the freedom to have their own bathrooms.”

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Tuberville promotes anti-transgender sports ban at CPAC

Senator’s bill introduced Feb. 1

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U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) speaks at CPAC 2024 (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – During an interview with right-wing talk show host Ben Ferguson at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) promoted a bill he introduced on Feb. 1, the Protection of Women in Olympic and Amateur Sports Act.

The legislation, which Tuberville acknowledged would not be brought to the Senate floor so long as Democrats have a majority in the chamber, would “prohibit any governing body recognized by the U.S. Olympic Committee” from allowing transgender women to participate “in any athletic event intended for females.”

The senator accused the Democrats, “the socialist party” of “dividing the family” by “trying to bring gender together, because they think men can have babies now.”

Tuberville expressed frustration with Republican Senate colleagues who did not agree with his sports bill, recounting how he had asked some of them, “don’t you have a daughter?”

“Now they want to tear down sports,” he said, warning that opening women’s and girls’ teams to trans women and girls will result in injury.

Tuberville and Ferguson criticized a new policy adopted by USA Boxing in January, which they found insufficiently restrictive.

The organization’s new rules stipulate that minors “must compete as their birth gender” and in weight classes specified in the rulebook — but allows trans women older than 18 to compete in the female category if they have undergone genital reassignment surgery and agree to quarterly hormone tests for four years.

More transphobia from GOP’s leading candidate for N.C. governor

Taking the stage after Tuberville and Ferguson was North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, the Republican frontrunner in the state’s gubernatorial primary, who also spoke out against allowing trans women and girls to compete in athletics and proclaimed “men oughta go in their own bathroom, not the women’s bathroom.”

Robinson objected to press coverage of his anti-trans remarks during a campaign speech this month in which he said, “we’re going to defend women in this state,” which means “if you’re a man on Friday night and all of the sudden on Saturday, you feel like a woman and you want to go in the women’s bathroom in the mall, you will be arrested — or whatever we got to do to you.”

At a different rally, Robinson said those who “are confused” about their gender should “find a corner outside somewhere to go” to the bathroom.

Robinson accused “the leftist news media” of cherry-picking these statements in their coverage rather than his remarks about other subjects. “Whenever they mention my name, they mention it in connection with social issues,” he said. “According to them, I hate everybody.”

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