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White House: anti-LGBT language in defense bill ‘ridiculous’

But White House stops short of threatening a veto

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Josh Earnest, gay news, Washington Blade
Josh Earnest, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the potential inclusion of anti-LGBT language in defense legislation is “ridiculous.” (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Amid concerns about the possibility of anti-LGBT language in major defense legislation coming to President Obama’s desk, the White House has condemned the provision as “ridiculous,” but stopped short of saying the provision alone is enough to trigger a veto.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said he’s “not prepared to single out particular elements” of the fiscal year 2017 defense authorization bill as worthy of vetoing the entire measure.

But Earnest but said inclusion of the language, which would undermine President Obama’s executive order barring anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors, in the House bill is “absolutely one of the reasons” Obama would veto the bill in the unlikely event Congress submitted that version of the legislation.

“And the prospect that Republicans would hold hostage funding for our national security unless the president makes it easier for companies to discriminate against gay people is ridiculous, but unfortunately consistent with the pattern of behavior we’ve seen from Republicans in Congress over the past several years,” Earnest added. “So, the president does feel strongly about this, but I’m not prepared to single out specific provisions.”

The House version of the defense authorization bill contains language Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) inserted in committee markup that would allow religiously affiliated federal contractors to discriminate against LGBT workers, undermining Obama’s 2014 executive order against anti-LGBT discrimination. The Senate version of the bill contains no such provisions.

The lack of definition for “religious corporation” in the provision could allow courts to construe the term broadly to mean any federal contractor — not just religious organizations — in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in the Hobby Lobby case.

As lawmakers in conference committee are busy hammering out the two versions of the legislation to produce a final bill to send to Obama, Democrats led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are sounding the alarm. The conference committee is expected to produce a final report after Election Day.

Earnest said Obama’s views about the provision “have been communicated very clearly to Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.”

“I don’t have any meetings to read out to you, but there’s no mistaking the president’s strong opinion on the issue,” Earnest said.

Asked how confident he is Republicans would submit to Obama a defense bill free of the language, Earnest demurred, but again condemned the provision.

“I’m not in the business of predicting future congressional actions,” Earnest said. “We’ll see what they do. It certainly is their responsibility to move that kind of legislation along, but they shouldn’t use the need to pass that kind of legislation to try to jam through controversial provisions that, for example, make it easier to discriminate against gay people. That’s not the right thing to do.”

Earnest’s comments are consistent with the White House Statement of Administration Policy on the House version of the defense bill, which cites the anti-LGBT language as well as other components, such as language inhibiting the removal of detainees from the facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as reasons Obama would veto the measure.

Earlier this week, Roll Call cited anonymous sources saying White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough has personally reached out to key lawmakers on the issue and Obama is prepared to veto the fiscal 2017 defense policy bill over that language. The White House didn’t immediately respond to a follow-up email asking about the difference between Roll Call’s reporting and Earnest’s public remarks.

A Democratic insider with knowledge of the negotiations, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Earnest’s comments and the reporting earlier this week aren’t significantly different.

“In an ideal world, would he say this on its own would be enough? Sure,” the insider said. “But the White House hardly says anything like that, so I think this is probably about the closest they could have come to saying it.”

The insider said the White House has indeed communicated its view to other people behind the scenes and McDonough has been making phone calls to Capitol Hill, so “it’s happening at the highest level, other than the president himself.”

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Two arrested for lesbian couple’s murder, dismemberment in Mexico border city

Julissa Ramírez and Nohemí Medina Martínez killed earlier this month

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From left: Julissa Ramírez and Nohemí Medina Martínez</strong. (Photo via Facebook)

Two people have been arrested in connection with the murder and dismemberment of a lesbian couple in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez.

The Chihuahua Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday announced authorities arrested a 25-year-old woman and a 24-year-old man and charged them with aggravated femicide.

Authorities on Jan. 16 found the dismembered body parts of Julissa Ramírez and Nohemí Medina Martínez in plastic bags that had been placed along the Juárez-El Porvenir Highway. The Chihuahua Attorney General’s Office in a press release notes the suspects murdered Ramírez and Medina in a house in Ciudad Juárez’s San Isidro neighborhood on Jan. 15.

Ciudad Juárez, which is located in Mexico’s Chihuahua state, is across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.

Members of Comité de la Diversidad Sexual de Chihuahua, a local LGBTQ rights group, and Chihuahua Gov. María Eugenia Campos Galván are among those who have expressed outrage over the women’s murders. Activists have also urged local and state authorities to investigate whether the murder was a hate crime based on Ramírez and Medina’s sexual orientation.

Local media reports said nine women — including Ramírez and Medina — were killed in Ciudad Juárez from Jan. 1-15.

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Virginia

Va. Senate subcommittee tables anti-transgender student athlete bill

Virginia Beach Republican introduced SB 766

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia Senate subcommittee on Thursday tabled a bill that would have banned transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on earlier this month, would have required “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.’”

“SB 766 (trans sports ban) was passed by indefinitely (it died!) after a long line of speakers testified against it, affirming trans students’ rights to participate in sports just like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia after the vote. “Trans students belong in sports. Period.”

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the House of Delegates. Democrats still control the Senate by a 21-19 margin.

A bill that would have eliminated the requirement that school districts implement the Virginia Department of Education’s trans and non-binary student guidelines died in a Senate subcommittee on Thursday. The Senate General Laws and Technology on Thursday also tabled a religious freedom measure that would have undermined Virginia’s LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination law.

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Virginia

Two anti-LGBTQ bills die in Va. Senate

Democrats maintain 21-19 majority in chamber

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The Virginia Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Two anti-LGBTQ bills died in the Virginia Senate on Thursday.

A Senate Education subcommittee voted against state Sen. Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell County)’s Senate Bill 20, which would have eliminated the requirement that school districts must implement the Virginia Department of Education’s transgender and non-binary student guidelines.

The Senate General Laws and Technology Committee in an 8-7 vote tabled state Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg)’s Senate Bill 177, a religious freedom measure that critics contend would have allowed anti-LGBTQ discrimination in housing.

Virginia’s statewide nondiscrimination law includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Peake’s bill would have removed “the provision of the exemption for religious organizations under the Virginia Fair Housing Law that denies such exemption where the membership in such religion is restricted on account of race, color, national origin, sex, elderliness, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, military status, or disability.”

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the House of Delegates. Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office three days later.

Democrats, who maintain a 21-19 majority in the state Senate, have vowed to block any anti-LGBTQ bill.

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