April 28, 2016 at 7:48 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
White House: State laws not impairing U.S. efforts on LGBT rights

Josh Earnest, White House, Barack Obama Administration, press, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said state laws aren’t impairing U.S. efforts on LGBT rights. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Newly enacted state laws seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination aren’t impairing the Obama administration’s efforts to advance LGBT rights either overseas or domestically, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday.

Earnest made the comments under questioning from the Washington Blade after speaking broadly about the administration’s commitment to LGBT rights in response to the enactment of the latest anti-LGBT law: A measure signed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam allowing counselors in his state to refuse treatment to LGBT patients out of religious objections.

“I haven’t seen the details of this particular piece of legislation,” Earnest said. “I can just tell you as a general matter…as you’ve heard me say on a number of occasions in the last few weeks, the administration believes strongly in fairness, in equality, and justice. And we believe in bills that promote fairness, equality, and justice, and we are strongly opposed to any legislative effort to undermine protections for any American.”

Earnest added, “And it’s not just the way he evaluates federal measures, but when we choose to weigh in on state and local matters, it’s an important criteria.”

Following President Obama’s overseas trip last week to multiple countries, including Saudi Arabia, which has a dismal record on LGBT rights, Earnest said having those state anti-LGBT laws in place hasn’t undermined U.S. standing to advocate in favor of LGBT and human rights overseas.

“Not when it comes to the president,” Earnest said. “The president continues to be a forceful advocate for human rights everywhere he goes. He views that as part of the job description. And he also has his own personal conviction about a lot of these issues, and he’s eager to use the platform of the presidency of the United States to try to influence other countries and to persuade them that respect for basic, universal human rights should be a priority. And he certainly did make that case when he was in Saudi Arabia, and not for the first time, I would point out.”

Obama condemned anti-LGBT laws in North Carolina and Mississippi in London during a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, saying they “are wrong and should be overturned.” Earnest said he’s “not aware” of those state anti-LGBT laws coming up in any private discussions with leaders overseas.

Earnest also insisted state anti-LGBT laws aren’t impairing the Obama administration’s plans to advance LGBT rights domestically, such as efforts to lift the ban prohibiting transgender people from serving openly in the U.S. military.

“I’m not aware of any impact that these state laws have had on those policies,” Earnest said. “So, no, I’m not aware of any impact it had.”

Although the Pentagon last year has started a review of the policy with the goal of enabling open service, frustration continues to grow as that reviews continues to lag.

Earnest affirmed the only thing blocking the Pentagon from making the change to open transgender service is the review process itself at the Defense Department.

“That’s right,” Earnest said. “There is this ongoing process, and I’m not aware that any state law that’s been passed has had any impact on it.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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