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Conservative struggle over gay rights emerges at CPAC

Santorum says he doesn’t ‘want to talk about redefining marriage’

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Ralph Reed speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — To witness the conservative movement’s struggle with the widely held perception that nationwide marriage equality is imminent, you need not look further than the stage of the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference.

After remaining silent on the first day of the conference, voices against same-sex marriage emerged on Friday, although they were restricted to certain conservative activists as others expressed conflict over the issue and elected Republican officials ignored LGBT rights altogether in their speeches.

Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, was among the most vociferous in his opposition to same-sex marriage as he accused U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder of committing a “brazen act of lawlessness” by counseling state attorneys general not to defend marriage laws against litigation.

It should be noted that during his speech to the National Association of Attorneys General, Holder said he believes it’s OK for state attorneys general not to defend a ban on same-sex marriage if they believe they’re unconstitutional, but he never instructed them to take that course of action.

“From now on, we’re going to accept — in 2014, 2016 and beyond — nothing beyond unapologetic, unalloyed ‘conservative’ that defends the principles upon which this nation was founded, including the biblical principles of freedom of religion, the sanctity of life and the sacred institution of marriage,” Reed continued.

Also injecting anti-gay sentiment before the estimated 8,500 attendees at CPAC was Oliver North, a Fox News commentator known for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan administration in the 1980s.

Ending his speech, North equated the conservative struggle to stop the advancement of marriage equality to abolitionists’ efforts in 19th century America to end slavery.

“Some say that we must ignore social issues, like the definition of marriage, the sanctity of life, religious freedoms,” North said. “I say those are not social issues, they are deeply moral and spiritual issues and should be part of America’s elections.”

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Oliver North speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

North also made a veiled criticism of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, saying the administration is treating U.S. troops like “laboratory rats” as part of a “social experiment.”

These conservative activists are pushing back against the advancement of marriage equality as numerous federal courts — most recently in Texas, Virginia, Kentucky, Utah and Oklahoma — have struck down state constitutional bans on same-sex marriage amid expectations the U.S. Supreme Court will deliver a final ruling on the issue in 2015.

The anticipated resolution of the marriage issue in the courts invoked the ire on stage of Eric Metaxas, a conservative pundit who insisted voters must decide the issue of marriage equality instead of judges.

“The idea of same-sex marriage, the idea of paying for contraceptions, we should let the voters decide,” Metexas said. “This is the United States of America. We don’t need the ‘Mandarins of Justice’ to make these decisions; we’re supposed to trust the voters to make those decisions, and let the voters decide.”

But those considered possible 2016 presidential candidates shied away from the issue of marriage equality.

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Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Rick Santorum, known for his opposition to same-sex marriage and support for a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, expressed regret on stage that he became known for that viewpoint over the course of his 2012 presidential bid.

“I don’t want to talk about redefining marriage; I want to talk about reclaiming marriage as a good for society and celebrating how important it is for our economy,” Santorum said to applause.

Santorum continued to discuss the importance of the institution of marriage itself, saying businesses could advance it by offering marriage counseling as a benefit.

Amid the (often disputed) perception that Pope Francis is more lenient on gay rights, particularly after his recent suggestion he could support civil unions, Santorum, who’s Catholic, commended the pontiff for saying the Catholic Church should steer away from social issues.

“He’s going out there and not talking about what the Christian faith is against, he’s going out there and talking about what we’re for,” Santorum said. “He hasn’t changed a single policy. He won’t change a single policy. But what he’ll do is he’ll go out there and talk about the good news to a hurting world because he believes that that’s what the world needs.”

One event at CPAC that demonstrated the tension within the conservative movement on marriage equality, although the discussion wasn’t completely dedicated to the issue, was a panel titled, “Can Libertarians and Social Conservatives Ever Get Along?”

One question debated was protecting religious liberties of individuals as marriage equality advances. The issue for panelists wasn’t so much whether there should be marriage equality, but whether it should be imposed by judicial fiat.

Michael Medved, a conservative pundit and host of “The Michael Medved Show,” said the issue has come down to religious liberty and insisted social conservatives and libertarians should agree that states should be able to decide for themselves the marriage issue without interference from the federal government.

“The idea that New York and California may have legitimated, or recognized, decided that those states should sponsor gay marriage doesn’t mean that Texas should be compelled by overreaching courts, or anyone else, to sponsor and legitimate gay marriage,” Medved said.

Alexander McCorbin, executive director of Students for Liberty, represented the opposite end of the conservative spectrum and said on the panel that marriage equality is “the civil rights issue of the 21st century.”

“There’s state-sponsored discrimination against various associations between individuals,” McCorbin said. “We’re talking about the denial of basic rights and privileges of individuals in committed relationships — the only difference being their sexual orientation.”

But McCorbin was rebuked on stage by Medved, who said believing a fundamental right to same-sex marriage is inconsistent with libertarianism.

“You are saying that nine unelected judges should impose their will and their judgement on the sovereign states, all 50 sovereign states and the citizens therein, in terms of something as fundamental to society as the definition of family and the definition of marriage,” Medved said.

Making a point that was derided by gay bloggers and the watchdog group Media Matters, Medved also said the idea that any state had prohibited same-sex marriage is “a liberal lie” — possibly because same-sex weddings have been allowed, even though 33 states don’t recognize them as valid.

But Medved also signaled he nonetheless supports adoption by same-sex parents, which triggered applause in the audience (although one observer could be heard booing).

Matthew Spaulding, associate vice president of Allen P. Kirby Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies & Citizenship, insisted that religious liberties for objectors must be upheld and denied any link between same-sex marriage and interracial marriage.

“The fact of one’s color of one’s skin is a coincidence,” Spaulding said. “It has nothing to do with your character, right? The difference between a male and a female is something that is self-evident and obvious that we need to deal, and we can’t shut aside and turn it over to judges to tell us what to do.”

No one who is gay, nor any LGBT political group, had a voice on the panel despite its attention to the marriage issue. In an op-ed penned earlier this week in the Daily Caller, Log Cabin Republicans executive director Gregory Angelo asserted he had sought participation on a CPAC panel this year, but was rebuffed because the American Conservative Union, which runs the event, never responded to the request.

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Members of the CPAC panel, ‘Can Libertarians and Social Conservatives Ever Get Along?’ discussed same-sex marriage. From left, Tom Minnery of CitizenLink, Matt Spaulding of the Allen P. Kirby Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies & Citizenship, Matt Welch of Reason Magazine, Michael Medved of the ‘Michael Medved Show’ and Alexander McCorbin of Students for Liberty. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Ignoring the issue of marriage, prominent Republicans speaking before the panel chose to tackle other issues, although they weren’t afraid to take Obama to task.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a known opponent of LGBT rights including allowing openly gay people in the Boy Scouts, turned his attention to deriding the advancement of welfare states under the Obama administration.

“The vision that wins out — either this big-government, protectionist nanny state version offered by liberal leaders or the limited-government, unsubsidized, freedom state offered by conservative leaders — will determine the future of our nation,” Perry said.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has a reputation as a libertarian, delivered a speech criticizing the exposed data collection by the National Security Agency as he urged adherence to the U.S. Constitution.

“There is a great battle going on, it’s for the heart and soul of America,” Paul said. “The Fourth Amendment is equally as important as the Second Amendment, and conservatives cannot forget this.”

Even 2008 Republican presidential candidate turned Fox News commentator Mike Huckabee, known for championing social issues, was silent on stage about the issue of marriage equality, although he spoke more generally about upholding religious liberties in the country.

This struggle over gay rights emerges at CPAC following the publication this week of a Washington Post-ABC News poll showing a record-high 59 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, while only one-in-three Americans oppose it.

That support is even higher among young voters, which make up the preponderance of attendees at CPAC. The poll found three-quarters of Americans younger than 30 support same-sex marriage.

Following the speeches on Friday, Log Cabin’s Angelo said there’s only one way for the debate to end if the conservative movement wants to thrive.

“The conservative movement can keep its head in the sand at its own peril — with the potential to lose more votes — or it can acknowledge us as here to stay, and grow the base, especially among millennial voters,” Angelo said. “That’s where we’re at in this movement. We want conservatives to win, but they need to acknowledge us as part of that winning coalition.”

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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Biden administration announces global LGBTQ rights priorities

Homosexuality remains criminalized in upwards of 70 countries

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State Department spokesperson Ned Price on May 14 said the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the five priorities for the Biden administration in its efforts to promote LGBTQ rights abroad.

“The United States over the course of years has made some progress, but neither I, nor I think any objective observer should be satisfied with where we are,” Price told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview. “There’s a lot more work to do.”

President Biden in February signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad. Price told the Blade the decriminalization of homosexuality is “one of the many reasons why” the White House issued it.

“It is one of the many reasons why Secretary Blinken is so focused on this issue as well,” said Price.

Homosexuality remains criminalized in nearly 70 countries around the world.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are among the handful of countries that impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of engaging in consensual same-sex sexual relations. Bhutan and Gabon are among the nations that have decriminalized homosexuality in recent years.

The Trump administration in 2019 tapped then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell to lead a decriminalization initiative. Price declined to tell the Blade whether he feels the campaign was effective.

“Across the board I generally have a posture of not characterizing the last administration,” said Price. “I’ll leave them to speak to their record.”

Migration mitigation efforts must be ‘holistic’

Price told the Blade the Biden administration will also work to protect LGBTQ migrants and asylum seekers.

“When it comes to the irregular migration, this is not just a challenge at our border,” he said. “This is fundamentally a challenge that starts in the region and if we are to address the migrant flows that reach our borders, we’re going to have to start in the region and that’s precisely what we’re doing.”

Activists in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and other countries with whom the Blade has spoken say violence and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation are among the factors that prompt LGBTQ people to flee their homes and travel to the U.S.

Price did not say whether any of the $4 billion in aid the Biden administration has pledged to use in order to help mitigate the causes of migration from Central America’s Northern Triangle will specifically go to LGBTQ rights groups or HIV/AIDS service organizations. Vice President Kamala Harris late last month announced an additional $310 million in aid to “address” what Price described as “the root causes of irregular migration and to provide people with the confidence that they need not undertake the very dangerous journey north to the United States and that they can be confident in their lives in their home countries.”

“Oftentimes that is about economic opportunity, but there are cases in which it has more to do with discrimination and persecution,” Price told the Blade. “And so, we recognize that our approach to addressing those underlying drivers has to be holistic, given there are a range of factors and that’s why we’re working with a variety of groups on the ground and also understanding that marginalized communities, including the LGBTQI community, in the region, that there needs to be meaningful partnership there as well.”

“USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) is deeply engaged in this work, the State Department is engaged in this work as well and will continue to be, knowing that if we’re going to make progress, if we’re going to address the underlying root causes of irregular migration, we need to attempt to address all of them,” he added.

Price told the Blade the administration’s three other global LGBTQ rights priorities are funding efforts “to protect human rights and to advance nondiscrimination around the world,” respond to anti-LGBTQ human rights abuses and “building coalitions and engaging international organizations in the fight against this discrimination.”

“We have said across the board that one of the pillars of our foreign policy is the recognition that, yes, the United States is the most powerful country on the face of the Earth,” said Price. “We have tremendous sway and influence the world over, but we also recognize that in every challenge in virtually every arena, we will be able to do more, we will be able to be more effective, we’ll be able to be more persuasive and act more decisively when we bring our allies and partners along with us and this administration has put a great deal of emphasis on our alliances, our partnerships, but also those like-minded, as we call them, partners.”

Price added the U.S. recognizes “the values we share with our closest partners in the world are incredibly important.”

“They provide us with a similar framework and a set of priorities on which to act and of course working together to protect, but also to promote the rights of LGBTQ populations around the world,” he told the Blade. “It is a core tenet of what we share with our like-minded allies and partners. You will see us doing this on a bilateral basis. You will see us doing this on a multilateral basis, within blocks and groupings, and also at the U.N. as well. We will seek to press this case in all of those contexts.”

Blinken issues IDAHOBiT statement

Price spoke with the Blade three days before the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, which commemorates the World Health Organization’s 1990 decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder. Blinken on Sunday in a statement acknowledged IDAHOBiT.

“The message of ‘Together: Resisting, Supporting, Healing!’ is especially poignant as this year’s IDAHOTB theme,” said Blinken. “Ending hatred and violence against LGBTQI+ persons requires collaborative action from us all.”

“The United States is doing its part,” he added. “Within the first weeks of his administration, President Biden issued a memorandum instructing all U.S. federal agencies working abroad to ‘ensure that U.S. diplomatic efforts and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.’ And that important work is well underway.”

Blinken in his IDAHOBiT statement also referenced the same five priorities that Price discussed with the Blade.

“Working together, we can create a world that respects and celebrates the dignity of all individuals,” said Blinken. “It is in partnership that we will achieve our goal of a rights-respecting, inclusive society where no one lives in fear because of who they are or whom they love.”

(Photo courtesy of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia committee)

Blinken in March announced the State Department has disbanded the Commission on Unalienable Rights, a human rights advisory committee his predecessor created that LGBTQ activists sharply criticized.

He announced last month the State Department will once again allow U.S. diplomatic installations to fly the Pride flag. The position of special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad within the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor has remained vacant since 2017, but Blinken has pledged to make it an ambassador level post.

The Trump administration in 2018 withdrew from the U.N. Human Rights Council, which in recent years has emerged as a vocal champion of LGBTQ rights around the world. Blinken in February announced the U.S. will “reengage” with it.

Price is the first openly gay State Department spokesperson.

“I know that every time I say something I am speaking on behalf of the Department of State, on behalf of Secretary Blinken, on behalf of the U.S. government, sometimes on behalf of President Biden,” he told the Blade. I’m not sure what I fully appreciated before actually coming into this job is that I’m actually speaking to the LGBTQ community around the world.”

Price said he received emails and tweets from around the world after the Biden transition team announced his appointment. Price told the Blade that some people were “seemingly in shock,” while others had “some degree of delight that a member of the LGBTQ community would be put in such a public facing role in an American administration.”

“I understand this work is not about me,” Price told the Blade. “I’m never offering my personal opinion, but I think that I’ve come to understand that there is meaning in having an openly gay man in a role like this. There is meaning for the LGBTQ community at home, but especially in this role there is meaning and value attached to having that be the case around the world, and especially around the world where members of the community are routinely and often times systematically persecuted.”

State Department spokesperson Ned Price

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Biden names civil rights veteran to U.S. Education Dept.

Catherine Lhamon’s portfolio will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct, racial discrimination

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Nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education Catherine Lhamon. (Photo public domain))

The White House announced Thursday that President Joe Biden has nominated Catherine Lhamon to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

Lhamon currently serves as a Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council for Racial Justice and Equity at the White House, where she manages the President’s equity policy portfolio. She is a former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU) and served as chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 2017 to 2021.

She has also served as Legal Affairs Secretary to California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Her portfolio at Education, where she previously served in the same position under former President Barack Obama, will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct and racial discrimination in the nation’s K-12 schools, universities and colleges. Lhamon was Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, to which President Obama nominated her and the Senate confirmed her in 2013.

“I am thrilled that President Biden is nominating Catherine Lhamon to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. Catherine has devoted her career to ensuring equity is at the core of all her work,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement released by his office Thursday.

“She has a strong record of fighting for communities of color and underserved communities, whether as the current Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council, the former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, or as a civil rights educator at Georgetown University. We are thrilled to have Catherine serving as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and know she will continue to fight for fairness, equity, and justice for all of America’s students.”

Lhamon has also litigated civil rights cases at National Center for Youth Law, Public Counsel Law Center, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.  Lhamon taught federal civil rights appeals at Georgetown University Law Center in the Appellate Litigation Program and clerked for the Honorable William A. Norris on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“Catherine Lhamon is the right choice to lead the Department of Education’s civil rights division at such a critical time for the country and the agency. There is much work to do in order to roll back the harmful policies and legacies of Betsy DeVos, from her attacks on transgender students to her unconscionable revocation of discriminatory discipline guidance and rewrite of Title IX rules,” Adele Kimmel, Director of the Students’ Civil Rights Project at Public Justice told the Blade in an email.

“During her previous tenure in the same job, Catherine embraced equality, enforced Title IX and ensured students had an ally inside the federal government. She will do so again, and the Senate should move to quickly confirm her so she can begin the work of restoring the Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights and dignity of students and implementing the Biden Administration’s pledge to undo the damage that DeVos has done,” Kimmel added.

Born in Virginia and raised in California, Lhamon graduated from Amherst College and Yale Law School. Lhamon and her husband and two daughters are transitioning between California and Maryland.

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University student becomes first non-binary mayor in Wales

‘Coming out and living my true me is still the best decision I’ve ever made’

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Owen J. Hurcum (Photo courtesy of Instagram)

 

The small city in Gwynedd in northwest Wales holds the distinction of being the oldest city in Wales. Now, it has earned itself a pair of new accolades, the first city in Wales to elect its youngest mayor and in fact to have the first elected non-binary gender queer mayor in the world.

Owen J. Hurcum, a 23-year-old university student, was chosen by their fellow councilors on the city’s governing council to become the mayor. The post, which is mainly ceremonial, acts as a goodwill ambassador for city in Wales and the greater U.K. as well as overseas.

Hurcum, who identifies as genderqueer or agender, told BBC Radio Wales Wednesday it “wasn’t a huge shock” when they were chosen to take up the reins, having served as a Bangor councilor for five years, including one term as the city’s deputy mayor. But they said it was a shock when they were initially asked to put their name forward because fellow councilors felt they would be a good representative for the city.

 

 

Their election to the office has created considerable controversy in some quarters with hateful vitriol being directed at both them and their fellow councilors. On Thursday the mayor tweeted;

“I would quickly like to point out that whilst I do indeed receive regular amounts of hate online, coming out and living my true me is still the best decision I’ve ever made and if you are thinking of doing it yourself, I promise there will be loved ones around to support you”

According to the BBC, they thanked fellow councilors for their support when facing online abuse. Noting that the city may be viewed as hardly the place one would expect to be a bastion of tolerance, they told the BBC;

 
“There was a trepidation because, obviously, local government has this unfair reputation of possibly being old and backwards, and I was worried that those views may come from fellow councilors. But I have had the exact opposite. Every single councilor has been extremely supportive, and the previous mayor has called me when he has seen that I have been getting hate online, and he has said he is there if I need him. It has been really nice.”
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