A new bill that aims to protect organizations that oppose same-sex marriage is invoking the ire of LGBT advocates, who call it subterfuge to undermine advances in marriage equality made in the past year.
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), a Tea Party Republican, on Thursday introduced the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, which is purportedly aimed to prohibit discrimination in the tax code against organizations that exercise “religious conscience” against same-sex marriage.
“Regardless of your ideology, we can all agree about the importance of religious liberty in America,” Labrador said. “Our bill will protect freedom of conscience for those who believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue.”
The legislation enjoys bipartisan support right off the bat. Among the 60 original co-sponsors are Reps. Steve Scalise, chair of the Republican Study Committee as well as conservative Democrats Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) and Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.).
Others co-sponsors are Republicans well-known for their anti-gay views: Reps. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).
According to the Labrador statement, most religious institutions fall within the 501(c) portion of the U.S. tax code, which allows for tax exemption. Further, the statement contends if the bill were passed, no individual or institution that opposes marriage equality would lose that exemption for purposes of federal taxes.
An array of conservative organizations and religious groups have endorsed the legislation, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Organization for Marriage, Family Research Council, and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The bill is introduced following the controversy that ensued after the Internal Revenue Service apologized for targeting political groups with closer scrutiny based on names or political themes if they applied for tax-exempt status.
LGBT advocates responded to the introduction of the bill by saying it would rescind protections that married same-sex couples have received in the wake of the Supreme Court decision against the Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, called the bill “a sweeping Trojan Horse proposal” that would undermine constitutional protections.
“Decades of civil rights struggle, and long experience with both federal and state non-discrimination statutes, have made clear that we don’t need to gut non-discrimination laws to protect true religious freedom, and neither private religious views nor prejudice should get a special license to discriminate in the public sphere,” Wolfson said.
Freedom to Marry identified repercussions of the bill that it says are particularly “egregious”:
* Allowing businesses to refuse to provide Family & Medical Leave Act leave for the same-sex spouse of an employee to care for a sick loved one and to deny pension protections to married same-sex couples.
* Allowing federal employees to refuse to process the tax returns or Social Security claims of married same-sex couples.
* Allowing individuals to pick and choose whether they want to comply with federal laws, simply by invoking religious views.
Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, a lesbian and the Third Way’s director of social policy and politics, also said the bill presents more problems than simply protecting the tax status of religious organizations.
“The sponsors and press clips so far have focused on the idea of protecting churches and religious organizations from losing their tax status due to their views on marriage for gay couples (something that hasn’t ever been an issue), but the effect of the bill would actually be much broader and incredibly problematic,” Erickson Hatalsky said.
Among the problems with the bill that Erickson Hatalsky identified are a potential violation of the Establishment Clause under the First Amendment as well as contravening the Bush-established policy of “Charitable Choice”, which says that when a program is federally funded, a religious organization may not turn people away.
Further, Erickson Hatalsky said the bill as written isn’t just limited to married same-sex couples, but would allow federal beneficiaries to discriminate against anyone who’s had sexual relations outside of an opposite-sex marriage.
“That means a government-funded health clinic could be able to refuse to provide prenatal care to an at-risk pregnant woman because she is unmarried,” Erickson Hatalsky said. “Again, that goes against our longstanding principle that when taxpayer funds are involved, an organization must serve all comers.”
Exclusive: Biden briefed on transgender deaths breaking record in 2021
At least 46 people killed in grim milestone
President Biden, in a year when the killings of transgender people are at the highest number in recorded history, has been briefed on the grim milestone of anti-transgender violence, the Washington Blade has learned exclusively.
A White House official confirmed via email to the Blade on Monday that Biden was briefed Thursday, Nov. 18 on the number of transgender and non-binary people killed in 2021, which was the same week as the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
In response to a follow-up inquiry from the Blade on which principals were in attendance at the briefing, the White House official had nothing to share.
At least 46 transgender and non-binary people have been killed, which is the highest number since efforts to record those deaths began. The violence has consistently had a disproportionate impact on transgender women of color.
The Blade first posed the question about whether Biden was briefed on anti-transgender violence to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Nov. 12. At the time, Psaki said she was unsure whether Biden was briefed, but said deaths were “terrible, heartbreaking” to hear.
Biden’s briefing on the anti-transgender violence is consistent with the statement he issued on Saturday recognizing the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which decried the deaths of the 46 transgender and non-binary people killed in 2021.
“Each of these lives was precious,” Biden said in the statement. “Each of them deserved freedom, justice, and joy. Today, on Transgender Day of Remembrance, we mourn those we lost in the deadliest year on record for transgender Americans, as well as the countless other transgender people — disproportionately Black and brown transgender women and girls — who face brutal violence, discrimination, and harassment.”
Biden, who has called transgender rights “the civil rights issue of our time,” is credited with being a transgender advocate in the White House, having issued policies such as a rollback of former President Trump’s transgender military ban and signing an executive order requiring federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling against anti-LGBTQ discrimination to the furthest extent possible under the law.
The Biden administration announced in June an interagency task force charged with making the U.S. government as transgender inclusive as possible, which the White House says is ongoing.
The year 2021 reached a new record for anti-transgender murders upon the death of Marquiisha “Quii” Lawrence, a 28-year-old Black transgender woman who was shot and killed in her home in Greenville, S.C.
Biden and other transgender advocates marked the Transgender Day of Remembrance this year with the solemn acknowledgment of the 46 transgender and non-binary people lost in 2021.
Biden as a 2020 presidential candidate highlighted ongoing anti-transgender violence, including its disproportionate impact on transgender people of color. In his comprehensive LGBTQ platform, Biden repeatedly pledged he’d take steps to protect LGBTQ people from violence.
In fact, Biden predicted the killing of transgender people would end if former President Trump were voted out of office, telling attendees at the Human Rights Campaign dinner in 2019: “The fastest way to end it is to end the Trump administration.”
Democratic National Committee chair Jaime Harrison and LGBTQ Caucus chair Earl Fowlkes issued a joint statement, saying each of the lives lost “represents a family broken, a friend forever changed, or a community in mourning.”
“Today, we mourn the lives lost due to senseless violence,” Harrison and Fowlkes said. “Tomorrow, we reaffirm and rededicate ourselves to enacting the change necessary to create a future where no one is forced to hide or live in fear.”
Biden recognizes anti-trans violence on Transgender Day of Remembrance
2021 deadliest year on record for transgender people
President Biden issued on Saturday a statement recognizing the Transgender Day of Remembrance, noting an estimated 46 transgender and non-binary were recorded as killed in 2021 in a horrific milestone of the most violent year on record for the transgender community.
“This year, at least 46 transgender individuals in this country — and hundreds more around the world—were killed in horrifying acts of violence,” Biden said. “Each of these lives was precious. Each of them deserved freedom, justice, and joy. Today, on Transgender Day of Remembrance, we mourn those we lost in the deadliest year on record for transgender Americans, as well as the countless other transgender people—disproportionately Black and brown transgender women and girls — who face brutal violence, discrimination, and harassment.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, in response to a question from the Washington Blade last week on whether Biden was briefed on anti-transgender violence reaching a new record in 2021, called the grim milestone “heartbreaking to hear,” but said she was unsure if Biden was briefed on the issue.
The Biden statement implies he was briefed on the deaths because it referenced 2021 being the deadliest year on record with 46 deaths, although the White House hasn’t responded to the Blade’s request to comment on whether he was briefed on the violence.
Biden moved early on during his administration to act on transgender rights, reversing President Trump’s transgender military ban and signing an executive order directing federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against anti-LGBTQ discrimination to the fullest extent possible.
The Biden administration has announced an ongoing created an interagency task force charged with making the U.S. government as transgender inclusive, which is the White House says is still ongoing.
Read Biden’s full statement below:
|November 20, 2021|
Statement by President Biden on Transgender Day of Remembrance
This year, at least 46 transgender individuals in this country—and hundreds more around the world—were killed in horrifying acts of violence. Each of these lives was precious. Each of them deserved freedom, justice, and joy. Today, on Transgender Day of Remembrance, we mourn those we lost in the deadliest year on record for transgender Americans, as well as the countless other transgender people—disproportionately Black and brown transgender women and girls—who face brutal violence, discrimination, and harassment.
In spite of our progress strengthening civil rights for LGBTQI+ Americans, too many transgender people still live in fear and face systemic barriers to freedom and equality. To ensure that our government protects the civil rights of transgender Americans, I charged my team with coordinating across the federal government to address the epidemic of violence and advance equality for transgender people. I continue to call on state leaders and lawmakers to combat the disturbing proliferation of discriminatory state legislation targeting transgender people, especially transgender children. As I have said before, these bills are nothing more than bullying disguised as legislation, they are un-American, and they endanger the safety and well-being of our children. I also continue to urge the Senate to swiftly pass the Equality Act so that all people are able to live free from fear and discrimination.
Transgender people are some of the bravest Americans I know. But no person should have to be brave just to live in safety and dignity. Today, we remember. Tomorrow—and every day—we must continue to act.
House resolution introduced to recognize Transgender Day of Remembrance
2021 deadliest year on record with 47 recorded deaths
On the eve of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a trio of House Democrats have introduced during a year with the highest recorded deaths of transgender and non-binary people a resolution that would officially recognize the annual occasion.
The measure was introduced by Reps. Marie Newman (D-Ill.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), who are known as vocal transgender advocates and members of the Transgender Equality Task Force, as part of group of 62 members of the U.S. House, according to a statement from the LGBTQ Equality Caucus. The resolution would commemorate Nov. 20 as the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Newman, who’s been open about having a young transgender daughter, said in a statement violence against transgender Americans, particularly Black and Brown transgender women, has become a “national epidemic.”
“With this resolution, we are not only recognizing the far too many souls lost to violence this year but also honoring their memory with a commitment to fight against anti-trans hate, rhetoric and violence,” Newman said. “Transgender Americans face hateful and disgusting attacks — verbal and physical — every single day just for simply existing in the world, and each of us has a fundamental obligation to speak out against it.”
The Transgender Day of Remembrance comes with 2021 having the highest number of recorded killings of transgender and non-binary people in a single year. A total of 47 deaths have been recorded, according to the LGBTQ Equality Caucus.
Wexton said in a statement the ongoing deaths of transgender people are “cannot be overlooked or ignored,” calling 2021 the deadliest year on record.
“Our trans friends and neighbors face greater threats of violence, bullying, and discrimination in nearly every aspect of their lives, and they deserve justice and equality,” Wexton said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, under questioning from the Washington Blade last week on whether President Biden was briefed on 2021 being the deadliest year on record for transgender people, said the grim milestone is “terrible and heartbreaking” although she said she was unsure on whether Biden was briefed.
The White House hasn’t responded with any update on whether or not Biden has been briefed as of the eve of the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Jayapal, who in addition to being a transgender advocate has been the face of the $1.75 trillions Build Back Better plan approved recently in the House, said in a statement the names of each of the transgender dead should be spoken aloud, the action should follow.
“Our resolution acknowledges this truth as we continue our dedicated work to strengthen hate crime laws, pass the Equality Act through the Senate, and ensure that every transgender person is able to live freely as themselves,” Jayapal said.
An LGBTQ Equality Caucus spokesperson didn’t respond Friday to the Blade’s request to comment on whether House leadership gave the sponsors of the legislation any indication the resolution would obtain a floor vote.
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