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House Dems take stand against anti-gay baker before Supreme Court

211 members of Congress sign brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop case

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Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) leads House Democrats in a brief before the Supreme Court case. (Washington Blade photo by Tom Hausman)

As the U.S. Supreme Court weighs a challenge to Colorado’s non-discrimination law filed by a Christian baker who refuses to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples, House Democrats gathered outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to promote a bicameral friend-of-the-court brief against the anti-gay baker.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), who’s gay and a co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, said at the news conference the refusal of service the Colorado baker proposes is akin to the kind of discrimination outlawed in other civil rights laws.

“If you are selling pizza, if you are renting hotels rooms, you do not get to say you’re not going to get served because you are African-American, or because you are Jewish, or because you are a woman,” Maloney said. “And it is not an answer to say that it is expressive conduct, that it is speech. It is not an answer to say that is a sincerely held religious belief if you are engaged in commercial activity. That’s simple.”

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who’s also gay and a co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, said a ruling in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop would be the first step in a slippery slope toward more discrimination.

“This amicus brief that were filing today is not about merely affirming one couple’s right to buy cake,” Takano said. “What it seems to affirm is every person’s right to be treated with dignity and respect in America. A court ruling in favor of the cakeshop would unleash a flood of discrimination from those who want to insult and exclude any group of vulnerable people.”

Also speaking at the news conference was House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who said a ruling for the baker would restore America to the dark days of discrimination.

“We’re better than exclusion, we’re better than hate, we’re better than prejudice,” Hoyer said. “We respect each and every one of fellow citizens. Let us pray that the Supreme Court redeems once again the promise of America.”

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case as a result of a petition filed by Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop who refused to make a wedding cake in 2012 for Charlie Craig and David Mullins, a Colorado couple. Bucking the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in public accommodations, Phillips asserts the baking of wedding cakes is inherently an act of expression protected under the First Amendment.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of Craig and Mullins. An administrative judge ruled in favor of the same-sex couple — a decision the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld in 2015. Although the Colorado Supreme Court declined to review these decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court nonetheless agreed to take the case this year.

The 37-page brief — signed by 175 House members and 36 U.S. senators — makes the case that members of Congress are well-positioned to advise the court on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case because the ruling could impact federal civil rights laws.

“The exemption petitioners seek — allowing discrimination by businesses that claim to engage in expressive conduct — is unworkable,” the brief says. “If Mr. Phillips chooses to provide goods or services to the public, then public accommodations laws demand he do so without discriminating against certain historically marginalized classes. Though Mr. Phillips may abide by certain tenets of his own faith, those tenets cannot be ‘superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity.'”

The lead House member on the brief was Maloney and the lead U.S. senator was Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the only out lesbian in Congress. A total of 211 congressional Democrats signed the brief — a number that dwarfs the 86 congressional Republicans who signed the brief led by Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) in favor of the Colorado baker.

Also present at the news conference was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who said the brief takes a stand against anti-LGBT discrimination, but is also much broader.

“The Masterpiece Cakeshop case touches the lives, of course, of LGBT people but it also touches the lives of all Americans,” Pelosi said. “The case is about the fundamental right for all groups to be free from discrimination.  With this brief, we are fighting that our nation lives up to its ideals of equality and justice for all.”

Also speaking at the news conference was Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.); Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-Mass.), chair of the Transgender Equality Task Force; and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.).

Krishnamoorthi, a Hindu and the first Indian-American to enter Congress, said he stands in solidarity with LGBT people as a religious, ethnic and racial minority.

“The promise of the United States is that it doesn’t matter where you came from, how you dress, how you pray, whom you love or how many letters there are in your name,” Krishnamoorthi said. “I have 18 in mine. All that matters is that you’re an American, and all Americans deserve equal protection under the law and all must have it.”

Joining lawmakers at the news conference in promoting the brief were Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign; Ian Thompson, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union; and Harper Jean Tobin, policy director for the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Tobin compared the discrimination Craig and Mullins faced at Masterpiece Cakeshop to the kind of  discrimination she said transgender people face everyday.

“This is the kind of discrimination that our state and federal civil rights laws are meant to protect Americans from in their daily life,” Tobin said. “The Supreme Court in this case is being asked to issue a license to discriminate, to turn our cherished civil rights laws into something more like civil rights suggestions.”

Under questioning from reporters, Maloney, who married his same-sex spouse in 2014 in New York, became visibly angry the Supreme Court would even entertain the idea a bakery would have a First Amendment right to refuse service to same-sex couples.

“The court would have not taken this case if it was a Jewish couple guaranteed,” Maloney said. “The court would’nt be hearing this case if it was a case of race-based discrimination dressed up as religion. The only reason is that people believe it’s still acceptable at some level, in some way to discriminate against LGBT people. The legal principle is exactly the same.”

A total of 35 friend-of-the-court briefs were filed before the Supreme Court this week in favor of the Colorado law and the same-sex couple.

Another brief, signed by nearly 1,300 clergy members, asserts religious views “do not provide a license to disregard neutral civil rights laws.” The Human Rights Campaign filed a “chefs for equality” brief signed by more than 240 chefs, bakers and restaurateurs opposing a decision against the same-sex couple.

Oral arguments in the case are set for Dec. 5.

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62 Comments

62 Comments

  1. lnm3921

    November 1, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    As usual, it’s the Democrats standing up for GLBT rights while the Republicans are against them! The Trump administration has proven itself to be an enemy of GLBT people and can NEVER be trusted! Trump is a disaster!

    • Harlan

      November 1, 2017 at 11:30 pm

      Trump represents the wishes of those that voted and placed him in office. I know that you’re going to say that the votes were rigged, Russia caused it all to happen so Trump got the job, but just read and listen at other news sources other than those created by Trump haters and extremely liberal folks. There is always a far left and a far right, but in all cases there is a middle. Blustering up and saying someone is a disaster is not going to help your cause. No one is saying GLBT has no rights. The majority should be considered instead of just an extremely small portion of the population. Stop the hate and work for a solution if it means that much to you. Removing the rights of 300 plus million will also remove many of the rights of those trying to get what they want.

      • lnm3921

        November 2, 2017 at 12:09 am

        Blow out your rear! Tricky trump represents the result of voter apathy and assuming such an idiot couldn’t be put in office. The electoral college got him in not the popular vote so it’s not the will of the people! Even trump said it was rigged!

        We will surely look out for our own best interest because the likes of you won’t! Listening to news sources that tell us what you want to hear about the fake potus is not an objective news source! I can think for myself and know trump is a pathological liar, a fraud and a chronic flip flipper! He can never be trusted as he’s only interested in what is good for Donald Trump!

        We won’t stand by idly as tricky trump tries to screw over America with his phony promises and dangerous agenda! We also won’t be complacent next elections and go out and vote! Dirty Koch and Robert Mercer money can’t stop us!

        • Tom Rogers

          November 2, 2017 at 10:55 am

          Has the popular ever put anyone in office? Trum won the popular vote in more state than Clintion. Clintion had 4million more votes than Trump in CA. One state should not dictate the presidential election..

          • lnm3921

            November 2, 2017 at 4:32 pm

            No more than your religion should dictate over the lives of glbt Americans! We are governed by secular laws not religious ones! We aren’t the Vatican!

          • Tom Rogers

            November 2, 2017 at 4:54 pm

            No religion is dictating anyone lives. You have the right to marry! But, you think otherwise, please explain? However, it seems secular laws are dictating religious American live which is against the 1st amendment!

          • lnm3921

            November 3, 2017 at 10:13 pm

            Religion led to sodomy laws used for centuries to persecute gay people! So you do try and control other prople’s Lives!

            We can marry but Kim Davies wouldn’t do her job and issue licenses to gay couples! What else can you then deny couples on the pretext of faith? Healthcare coverage to a gay spouse? A job or promotion because of a gay spouse? Housing? Credit? Discounts? The abuse can be endless and gay couples shouldn’t have to navigate mindfields while hetero couples do not! What offends your faith is way too subjective!

          • Tom Rogers

            November 7, 2017 at 4:14 pm

            Secular laws control our lives as well… Man who controls the government, not religion, enacted those laws. Does the bible say to write sodomy laws into governmental laws?

            Kim Davis would not sign or contribute to that behavior. There is a difference. Kentucky needed to change their laws, which they did later, to not require the clerk’s signature.

            lol Yes health care coverage to a gay spouse just like they deny abortion services. A gay spouse is similuar to a hetero spouse.

            But, not for housing, Credit, or discounts because that does not involve mimic marriage. Any two people, regardless of sexuality, can get a house together, credit or discounts. Those things does not necessary mean a those two people are in a relationship

          • lnm3921

            November 8, 2017 at 7:14 pm

            If you acknowledge that Secular laws control our lives, then your faith based on religion would not trump them! But sodomy laws were enacted based on religious leaders demanding it of those that governed. Like the clergy convinced Henry VIII in England to criminalize sodomy and make it a capital offense!

            Kim Davies would not be contributing to “behavior” she would be doing her job as was prescribed by law! Kentucky may have changed it’s laws but has all states?

            You laugh on healthcare coverage, but I can see someone like you saying you shouldn’t have to provide healthcare coverage to a gay person’s spouse based on it violating your faith since you would be recognizing the marriage by doing so.

            Yes, for housing because you have to sign the lease don’t you or provide your income as a couple jointly to qualify for a loan? If you knew it was for a gay couple should you be able to deny them because you don’t agree with their marriage?

          • Tom Rogers

            November 9, 2017 at 6:51 pm

            lol Religious liberity is a secular law! Is it not in the Constitutio ?

          • lnm3921

            November 9, 2017 at 8:02 pm

            You’re babbling roger. Try and make some sense!

          • BeFirmBeFair667

            December 13, 2017 at 8:04 pm

            Pesky problem: Thomas Jefferson said, “We are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.”

            God-given rights precede man’s law; hence, the primacy of the Bill of Rights over government action.

            On what basis is your law and morality?

            “When there is no god, everything is permissible.”

            –Dost.

          • lnm3921

            December 13, 2017 at 9:19 pm

            Thomas Jefferson while speaking on liberty also kept slaves and while preaching about religion was have sexual relations with sally Hemings and making illegitimate children! Where was his morality there?

        • Kemwit Tall Tree

          November 3, 2017 at 9:29 pm

          Hillary Clinton and her goons rigged the Democratic primaries against Bernie Sanders.

          Even Donna Brazile and Elizabeth Warren are calling out the sleazy DNC on its bogus primary system!

          You could care less because you are amoral.

          • lnm3921

            November 3, 2017 at 9:57 pm

            Elizabeth warren said trump is trying to look for a distraction from his campaign ties to Russia! Won’t work!

            Donna Brazil said the fake potus misquoted her but if Bernie had gotten the nomination maybe your disaster would be whining how his loss was rigged! You’re such a blatant hack!

          • Kemwit Tall Tree

            November 3, 2017 at 10:03 pm

            No….Elizabeth Warren explicitly stated the 2016 Democratic primary was “RIGGED”on PBS Newshour last night. So did Donna Brazile and Tulsi Gabbard yesterday!

            YOU are the one trying to distract right now!

          • lnm3921

            November 3, 2017 at 10:21 pm

            Rigged to favor Hillary not Bernie. So what? That wasn’t illegal.

            Still will never justify Russian collusion by the trump campaign! Trump’s admistration is tainted and you can’t whitewash it or clean the stain! It will haunt trump to defeat!

          • Kemwit Tall Tree

            November 3, 2017 at 10:29 pm

            I agree, so what?

            Unfortunately for the Democratic Party, its constituencies care a lot.
            On 10/24, at its annual convention, the AFL-CIO has decided to work with progressives to create a new political party that is pro-labor and against systemic political corruption.

            Looks like the Democratic Party is disintegrating before our very eyes…..so what?

          • lnm3921

            November 3, 2017 at 10:36 pm

            Hardly! Bernie was a spoiler like Ralph Nader. Democrats and liberals are coming together against trump! Independents are coming our way too!

            Trump’s own stupidity and volatile and reckless behavior alienates him even with some in his party like Crocker and flake! Voters are getting fed up with trump and many believe trump had something to do with Russian meddling! Doubt is damaging!

            Trump is going down like miss Milo!

          • Kemwit Tall Tree

            November 4, 2017 at 4:47 am

            How can Bernie be a spoiler when the entire process is spoiled and corrupt?

            The Clintons rigged the entire process in 2016! Even key Democrats are now saying it!

            Corker and Flake? Last time I looked, they were retiring and Trump is still standing!

          • lnm3921

            November 4, 2017 at 12:24 pm

            Again so what? That will never justify or mitigate the trump administrations Russian corruption! They committed a crime while the clintons did’t!

            Yes the entire process is rigged by the electoral college which gave trump the win against the wishes of the majority voters!

    • Tom Rogers

      November 2, 2017 at 10:51 am

      Do religious individuals have rights?

      • lnm3921

        November 2, 2017 at 4:26 pm

        You have rights obviously but they don’t trump glbt rights! In the secular!

        If it’s a religious institution then that’s different than the secular! Otherwise you have a slippery slope whereby you can use the excuse of faith against a glbt person for any reason not just marriage recognition!

        • BeFirmBeFair667

          December 13, 2017 at 8:02 pm

          “You have rights obviously but they don’t trump glbt rights! In the secular!”

          I would not want to be caught dead saying this no matter what my view.

          • lnm3921

            December 13, 2017 at 9:16 pm

            Then don’t be. That doesn’t negate the fact!

  2. Jamie Horne

    November 1, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    Look I am don’t have a religion cuz I don’t want to join an organized religion who decides to discriminate against others. I’m singing a I’m dealing with people with different religions different culture men and women I haven’t been with anybody who’s gay or not that is still do my best to care for them because we all should have a treat people with respect and dignity and not to our religious Faith against doing what’s right to protect others. I’m going to treat people with respect I know I said it before but I am still going to treat people with respect. I know what these people went through I’m a woman I also have a disability and I would like to be treated with a lot of respect I will judge people because I believe humans have every right to have equal rights you may not agree with the day transformation or any of that but does not give you a right to judge or force your beliefs on others. When you own a business or do anything with business you going to know you’re going to deal with people with different culture different Religion different sexual orientation you need to treat these people with respect then you will be treat with respect.

    • Tom Rogers

      November 2, 2017 at 10:46 am

      Is everyone going to heaven? No! According to your discrimination logic, if religion rejects anyone it is discrimination..

      • lnm3921

        November 2, 2017 at 4:30 pm

        religion used to reject people in the secular sphere is discrimination!

        • Tom Rogers

          November 2, 2017 at 5:03 pm

          lol All discrimination is not illegal. Dont the government allow certain forms of male, female
          age, and race discrimination? Is it not discrimination to only allow ages 55 and up to live in a community? The government allows the boys scout to only admit males? So it sounds like you want secular laws to prohibit the free exercise of religion in the public square..

          Dont God reject certain people due to their behavior?

          • lnm3921

            November 3, 2017 at 10:28 pm

            Those forms of discrimination can be challenged in court! If certain forms of discrimination are acceptable then limitations to faith are too like child or animal sacrifice are prohibited! Religion had been restricted in scope legally before!

          • Kemwit Tall Tree

            November 4, 2017 at 4:43 am

            Spoken by someone who most probably is a marxist! We know what YOUR end game is iwith regards to religion!

            Go back under your rock!

          • lnm3921

            November 4, 2017 at 12:16 pm

            Spoken like a typical theocrat who thinks religion cannot be challenged or questioned! People fled the old world to avoid religious injustice only to turn around and impose it on others here!

            Your an idiot siding with roger Nelson who would have the law say he can discriminate against you and you spouse based on faith simply because you are gay! If he had his way you couldn’t legally marry stupid and we would have sodomy laws used against you! You’re too pathetic to live!

          • Kemwit Tall Tree

            November 4, 2017 at 1:03 pm

            People have a right to their religious beliefs. You make a lot of speculations about things. The reality is that I can marry and it’s my legal right. Maybe not in all churches and definitely not in homophobic mosques….but thats just THEIR right to pursue liberty as they see fit.

          • lnm3921

            November 4, 2017 at 2:05 pm

            Speculation my sweet @$s!!you are simply an idiot in denial. It’s not about beliefs restricted to a church it’s about imposing those beliefs into the secular sphere to deny glbt the right to marry or recognize those rights! Since i’ve Lived through this many times I know quite well what they are trying to do! It wouldn’t be limited to marriage rights either it would be all rights!

            You assume because you can legally marry now that right can never be challenged or overturned in the name of religious liberty! You are so naive and stupid it’s pathetic! At the very least it could be so severely undermined that it renders it almost to symbolism! With no practical legal rights!

          • Tom Rogers

            November 7, 2017 at 4:03 pm

            Lol God also forbids sacrifices!

          • lnm3921

            November 7, 2017 at 8:00 pm

            Well, if i’m A born again Aztec, I would say my god expects sacrifice. Not allowing that prevents me from practicing my faith.

            In ancient Israel they made animal sacrifice…burnt offerings.

          • Tom Rogers

            November 8, 2017 at 12:14 pm

            But, you are not an Aztexc!

          • lnm3921

            November 8, 2017 at 7:06 pm

            How do you know what I am? And if I wanted to practice the Aztec religion by choice like you christanity shouldn’t my faith and it’s choices be respected, too?

          • Tom Rogers

            November 9, 2017 at 6:51 pm

            Nope!

          • lnm3921

            November 9, 2017 at 8:03 pm

            Hypocrite!

          • BeFirmBeFair667

            December 13, 2017 at 8:00 pm

            We descend into the ridiculous.

        • Tom Rogers

          November 2, 2017 at 5:13 pm

          We are a secular that carves out exemptions to not prohibit the free exercise of religion.. And no the bible does not condone racism. It does not talk about the color of one’s skin.

          • lnm3921

            November 3, 2017 at 10:32 pm

            The Bible tells slaves to obey their masters doesn’t?

            Can you sacrifice animals like they did in the Bible? Some religions believe in human sacrifice. Yet that belief won’t trump murder laws. There are limits!

          • Tom Rogers

            November 7, 2017 at 4:02 pm

            The bible also tells the master to treat your slave how you would want to be treated, correct? He also said to treat them as extended family.

            The Hebrew term for slave, eved, is a direct derivation from the Hebrew verb la’avöd (“to work”), thus, the slave in Jewish law is really only a worker or servant

            http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/slavery-in-judaism

            I see you know nothing about the bible! God forbid animal or human sacrifices!

          • lnm3921

            November 8, 2017 at 7:05 pm

            Since all you ever selectively quote us is Levticus and Romans, why would we?

          • BeFirmBeFair667

            December 13, 2017 at 7:59 pm

            And, yet, the same Bible influenced Western thought such as Wilberforce and the American abolitionists to outlaw slavery.

            I recommend that you understand what you criticize. Such random comments would not last a snowflake second in a Christian theology class.

          • lnm3921

            December 14, 2017 at 7:01 pm

            The Bible also influenced the inquisition, the crusades, witch trials, murder, mutilation and imprisonment of gays. It condoned African slavery with papal sanction as they were considered not to have souls. Let’s not forget the conquest and destruction of the AZTEC and Inca civilizations!

        • BeFirmBeFair667

          December 13, 2017 at 7:58 pm

          A government that compels action against one’s conscience is also at the heart of this case.

          In the articles I have read (not random readers’ comments) Mr. Phillips is a kind man to every customer including gays. He does not bake custom cakes for gay weddings, Halloween events, lewd bachelor parties, etc..

          He is not the “bigot” that some on this comment thread portray.

          • lnm3921

            December 13, 2017 at 9:13 pm

            Do you even know what bigotry is? Reading articles about some doesn’t mean anything. I read hitler had laws that protected animals against cruelty. So that makes him a kind heart?

            The thin red line between religion and the secular cannot be blurred. We can give deferrence to it at religious institutions but in return we need deference innthe secular otherwise there is no end to the exemptions you have based on the faith card.

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        November 5, 2017 at 1:17 am

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  3. NORMAN DOSTAL

    November 8, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    This is pretty open and shut. The SC wont carve out an “artistic” expression on this guy’s C level cakes. Seriously though-anything could then be an artistic expression-SUBWAY has sandwich “artists”!! Can they refuse my tuna sandwich?? Just serve gays or get fined you kooks!!

    • Andrew J

      December 5, 2017 at 3:08 pm

      This is nothing more than a set up hit job on Christians. Punishing Christians and trying to get them fined on purpose. Despicable… “If we’re going to insist that a Christian’s right to believe is subordinate to all other rights, then it’s not a right! Somebody! Is always! Going to be offended!”

      • NORMAN DOSTAL

        December 5, 2017 at 7:13 pm

        Iidot. The gays were regular customers! They shopped there for years! They were shocked that the bigot refused them. The STATE is suing them which is their job when-listen close-someone breaks the law…

        • BeFirmBeFair667

          December 13, 2017 at 7:54 pm

          “the bigot”

          Do onto others as you would do onto you.

          • NORMAN DOSTAL

            December 15, 2017 at 1:10 pm

            we tried that-didn’t work-now we fight back and win

      • Darren_1

        December 6, 2017 at 6:53 pm

        I’d recommend reporting this user. All he does is insult and use foul
        language to debate those who disagree with him, particularly his sexual
        preference. He also reports those who respectfully disagree with him, do
        it’s a high likelihood he’s reported you already..

    • BeFirmBeFair667

      December 13, 2017 at 8:10 pm

      Is about making a custom wedding cake for a form of marriage that the baker’s religious teachings say is ungodly.

      This is not about a baker refusing to offer a regular old cake.

      Note Justice Kennedy’s comment that the state has not been tolerant towards the Christian baker.

      Perhaps this is really about our intolerance of a religious minority?

  4. Andrew J

    December 5, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    You just want to punish people who disagree with you. You want to have rights but deny rights to others. Homosexuality is a sin in Christianity, and to bake a wedding cake for gays is engaging in celebration with the customers who want the cake. It would be helping them celebrate, and it goes against freedom of conscience.

    The only ones being discriminated against here are Christians who have been targeted because you all KNOW they can’t accept your sin and will be forced to refuse you. As Jesus said in the beginning God created them male and female…they were to marry and become one flesh. How can a Christian celebrate something against the natural order?

    “If we’re going to insist that a Christian’s right to believe is subordinate to all other rights, then it’s not a right! Somebody! Is always! Going to be offended!”

    • lnm3921

      December 5, 2017 at 11:49 pm

      You’ve been punishing gays for centuries through execution, prison, shaming and ostracizing! So stop whining about being a victim. It’s always about you! The secular is a level playing field!

      Spare me the sanctimony! People like you hold the Bible in one hand and vote for a child molestor like Roy Moore or womanizer like the fake POTUS to push an agenda and out the window goes your morality!!

      • BeFirmBeFair667

        December 13, 2017 at 8:05 pm

        Isn’t this a bit much.

  5. BeFirmBeFair667

    December 13, 2017 at 7:53 pm

    What is missing in the article is not that Mr. Phillips refused to give a cake to the gay couple but that, because of his conscience, he refused to make a custom wedding cake.

    His refusal came at a time when the State of Colorado would not issue wedding licences to homosexual couples.

    Also missing in the article is any balance particularly the issue of the government compelling an individual to go against his religion.

    I recognize that many gays and others are against discrimination but do you recognize the chilling implications of government imposed tolerance. And that is why we have a Bill of Rights.

  6. lnm3921

    December 13, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    Where exactly did Jesus speak about “marriage”? Where exactly did he speak against glbt?

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Equality Act, contorted as a danger by anti-LGBTQ forces, is all but dead

No political willpower to force vote or reach a compromise

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Despite having President Biden in the White House and Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, efforts to update federal civil rights laws to strengthen the prohibition on discrimination against LGBTQ people by passing the Equality Act are all but dead as opponents of the measure have contorted it beyond recognition.

Political willpower is lacking to find a compromise that would be acceptable to enough Republican senators to end a filibuster on the bill — a tall order in any event — nor is there the willpower to force a vote on the Equality Act as opponents stoke fears about transgender kids in sports and not even unanimity in the Democratic caucus in favor of the bill is present, stakeholders who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity said.

In fact, there are no imminent plans to hold a vote on the legislation even though Pride month is days away, which would be an opportune time for Congress to demonstrate solidarity with the LGBTQ community by holding a vote on the legislation.

If the Equality Act were to come up for a Senate vote in the next month, it would not have the support to pass. Continued assurances that bipartisan talks are continuing on the legislation have yielded no evidence of additional support, let alone the 10 Republicans needed to end a filibuster.

“I haven’t really heard an update either way, which is usually not good,” one Democratic insider said. “My understanding is that our side was entrenched in a no-compromise mindset and with [Sen. Joe] Manchin saying he didn’t like the bill, it doomed it this Congress. And the bullying of hundreds of trans athletes derailed our message and our arguments of why it was broadly needed.”

The only thing keeping the final nail from being hammered into the Equality Act’s coffin is the unwillingness of its supporters to admit defeat. Other stakeholders who spoke to the Blade continued to assert bipartisan talks are ongoing, strongly pushing back on any conclusion the legislation is dead.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the Equality Act is “alive and well,” citing widespread public support he said includes “the majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents and a growing number of communities across the country engaging and mobilizing every day in support of the legislation.”

“They understand the urgent need to pass this bill and stand up for LGBTQ people across our country,” David added. “As we engage with elected officials, we have confidence that Congress will listen to the voices of their constituents and continue fighting for the Equality Act through the lengthy legislative process.  We will also continue our unprecedented campaign to grow the already-high public support for a popular bill that will save lives and make our country fairer and more equal for all. We will not stop until the Equality Act is passed.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), chief sponsor of the Equality Act in the Senate, also signaled through a spokesperson work continues on the legislation, refusing to give up on expectations the legislation would soon become law.

“Sen. Merkley and his staff are in active discussions with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to try to get this done,” McLennan said. “We definitely see it as a key priority that we expect to become law.”

A spokesperson Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had promised to force a vote on the Equality Act in the Senate on the day the U.S. House approved it earlier this year, pointed to a March 25 “Dear Colleague” letter in which he identified the Equality Act as one of several bills he’d bring up for a vote.

Despite any assurances, the hold up on the bill is apparent. Although the U.S. House approved the legislation earlier this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee hasn’t even reported out the bill yet to the floor in the aftermath of the first-ever Senate hearing on the bill in March. A Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic aide, however, disputed that inaction as evidence the Equality Act is dead in its tracks: “Bipartisan efforts on a path forward are ongoing.”

Democrats are quick to blame Republicans for inaction on the Equality Act, but with Manchin withholding his support for the legislation they can’t even count on the entirety of their caucus to vote “yes” if it came to the floor. Progressives continue to advocate an end to the filibuster to advance legislation Biden has promised as part of his agenda, but even if they were to overcome headwinds and dismantle the institution needing 60 votes to advance legislation, the Equality Act would likely not have majority support to win approval in the Senate with a 50-50 party split.

The office of Manchin, who has previously said he couldn’t support the Equality Act over concerns about public schools having to implement the transgender protections applying to sports and bathrooms, hasn’t responded to multiple requests this year from the Blade on the legislation and didn’t respond to a request to comment for this article.

Meanwhile, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who declined to co-sponsor the Equality Act this year after having signed onto the legislation in the previous Congress, insisted through a spokesperson talks are still happening across the aisle despite the appearances the legislation is dead.

“There continues to be bipartisan support for passing a law that protects the civil rights of Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Annie Clark, a Collins spokesperson. “The Equality Act was a starting point for negotiations, and in its current form, it cannot pass. That’s why there are ongoing discussions among senators and stakeholders about a path forward.”

Let’s face it: Anti-LGBTQ forces have railroaded the debate by making the Equality Act about an end to women’s sports by allowing transgender athletes and danger to women in sex-segregated places like bathrooms and prisons. That doesn’t even get into resolving the issue on drawing the line between civil rights for LGBTQ people and religious freedom, which continues to be litigated in the courts as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected any day now to issue a ruling in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia to determine if foster care agencies can reject same-sex couples over religious objections.

For transgender Americans, who continue to report discrimination and violence at high rates, the absence of the Equality Act may be most keenly felt.

Mara Keisling, outgoing executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, disputed any notion the Equality Act is dead and insisted the legislation is “very much alive.”

“We remain optimistic despite misinformation from the opposition,” Keisling said. “NCTE and our movement partners are still working fruitfully on the Equality Act with senators. In fact, we are gaining momentum with all the field organizing we’re doing, like phone banking constituents to call their senators. Legislating takes time. Nothing ever gets through Congress quickly. We expect to see a vote during this Congress, and we are hopeful we can win.”

But one Democratic source said calls to members of Congress against the Equality Act, apparently coordinated by groups like the Heritage Foundation, have has outnumbered calls in favor of it by a substantial margin, with a particular emphasis on Manchin.

No stories are present in the media about same-sex couples being kicked out of a restaurant for holding hands or transgender people for using the restroom consistent with their gender identity, which would be perfectly legal in 25 states thanks to the patchwork of civil rights laws throughout the United States and inadequate protections under federal law.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the American Unity Fund, which has bolstered the Republican-led Fairness for All Act as an alternative to the Equality Act, said he continues to believe the votes are present for a compromise form of the bill.

“I know for a fact there is a supermajority level of support in the Senate for a version of the Equality Act that is fully protective of both LGBTQ civil rights and religious freedom,” Deaton said. “There is interest on both sides of the aisle in getting something done this Congress.”

Deaton, however, didn’t respond to a follow-up inquiry on what evidence exists of agreeing on this compromise.

Biden has already missed the goal he campaigned on in the 2020 election to sign the Equality Act into law within his first 100 days in office. Although Biden renewed his call to pass the legislation in his speech to Congress last month, as things stand now that appears to be a goal he won’t realize for the remainder of this Congress.

Nor has the Biden administration made the Equality Act an issue for top officials within the administration as it pushes for an infrastructure package as a top priority. One Democratic insider said Louisa Terrell, legislative affairs director for the White House, delegated work on the Equality Act to a deputy as opposed to handling it herself.

To be sure, Biden has demonstrated support for the LGBTQ community through executive action at an unprecedented rate, signing an executive order on day one ordering federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County to the fullest extent possible and dismantling former President Trump’s transgender military ban. Biden also made historic LGBTQ appointments with the confirmation of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health.

A White House spokesperson insisted Biden’s team across the board remains committed to the Equality Act, pointing to his remarks to Congress.

“President Biden has urged Congress to get the Equality Act to his desk so he can sign it into law and provide long overdue civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ Americans, and he remains committed to seeing this legislation passed as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said. “The White House and its entire legislative team remains in ongoing and close coordination with organizations, leaders, members of Congress, including the Equality Caucus, and staff to ensure we are working across the aisle to push the Equality Act forward.”

But at least in the near-term, that progress will fall short of fulfilling the promise of updating federal civil rights law with the Equality Act, which will mean LGBTQ people won’t be able to rely on those protections when faced with discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

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D.C. bill to ban LGBTQ panic defense delayed by Capitol security

Delivery of bill to Congress was held up due to protocols related to Jan. 6 riots

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New fencing around the Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection prevented some D.C. bills from being delivered to the Hill for a required congressional review. (Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A bill approved unanimously last December by the D.C. Council to ban the so-called LGBTQ panic defense has been delayed from taking effect as a city law because the fence installed around the U.S. Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection prevented the law from being delivered to Congress.

According to Eric Salmi, communications director for D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who guided the bill through the Council’s legislative process, all bills approved by the Council and signed by the D.C. mayor must be hand-delivered to Congress for a required congressional review.

“What happened was when the Capitol fence went up after the January insurrection, it created an issue where we physically could not deliver laws to Congress per the congressional review period,” Salmi told the Washington Blade.

Among the bills that could not immediately be delivered to Congress was the Bella Evangelista and Tony Hunter Panic Defense Prohibition and Hate Crimes Response Amendment Act of 2020, which was approved by the Council on a second and final vote on Dec. 15.

Between the time the bill was signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser and published in the D.C. Register under procedural requirements for all bills, it was not ready to be transmitted to Congress until Feb. 16, the Council’s legislative record for the bill shows.

Salmi said the impasse in delivering the bill to Congress due to the security fence prevented the bill from reaching Congress on that date and prevented the mandatory 60-day congressional review period for this bill from beginning at that time. He noted that most bills require a 30 legislative day review by Congress.

But the Evangelista-Hunter bill, named after a transgender woman and a gay man who died in violent attacks by perpetrators who attempted to use the trans and gay panic defense, includes a law enforcement related provision that under the city’s Home Rule Charter passed by Congress in the early 1970s requires a 60-day congressional review.

“There is a chance it goes into effect any day now, just given the timeline is close to being up,” Salmi said on Tuesday. “I don’t know the exact date it was delivered, but I do know the countdown is on,” said Salmi, who added, “I would expect any day now it should go into effect and there’s nothing stopping it other than an insurrection in January.”

If the delivery to Congress had not been delayed, the D.C. Council’s legislative office estimated the congressional review would have been completed by May 12.

A congressional source who spoke on condition of being identified only as a senior Democratic aide, said the holdup of D.C. bills because of the Capitol fence has been corrected.

“The House found an immediate workaround, when this issue first arose after the Jan. 6 insurrection,” the aide said.

“This is yet another reason why D.C. Council bills should not be subject to a congressional review period and why we need to grant D.C. statehood,” the aide said.

The aide added that while no disapproval resolution had been introduced in Congress to overturn the D.C. Evangelista-Hunter bill, House Democrats would have defeated such a resolution.

“House Democrats support D.C. home rule, statehood, and LGBTQ rights,” said the aide.

LGBTQ rights advocates have argued that a ban on using a gay or transgender panic defense in criminal trials is needed to prevent defense attorneys from inappropriately asking juries to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression is to blame for a defendant’s criminal act, including murder.

Some attorneys have argued that their clients “panicked” after discovering the person against whom they committed a violent crime was gay or transgender, prompting them to act in a way they believed to be a form of self-defense.

In addition to its provision banning the LGBTQ panic defense, the Evangelista-Hunter bill includes a separate provision that strengthens the city’s existing hate crimes law by clarifying that hatred need not be the sole motivating factor for an underlying crime such as assault, murder, or threats to be prosecuted as a hate crime.

LGBTQ supportive prosecutors have said the clarification was needed because it is often difficult to prove to a jury that hatred is the only motive behind a violent crime. The prosecutors noted that juries have found defendants not guilty of committing a hate crime on grounds that they believed other motives were involved in a particular crime after defense lawyers argued that the law required “hate” to be the only motive in order to find someone guilty of a hate crime.

Salmi noted that while the hate crime clarification and panic defense prohibition provisions of the Evangelista-Hunter bill will become law as soon as the congressional review is completed, yet another provision in the bill will not become law after the congressional review because there are insufficient funds in the D.C. budget to cover the costs of implementing the provision.

The provision gives the D.C. Office of Human Rights and the Office of the D.C. Attorney General authority to investigate hate related discrimination at places of public accommodation. Salmi said the provision expands protections against discrimination to include web-based retailers or online delivery services that are not physically located in D.C.

“That is subject to appropriations,” Salmi said. “And until it is funded in the upcoming budget it cannot be legally enforced.”

He said that at Council member Allen’s request, the Council added language to the bill that ensures that all other provisions of the legislation that do not require additional funding – including the ban on use of the LGBTQ panic defense and the provision clarifying that hatred doesn’t have to be the sole motive for a hate crime – will take effect as soon as the congressional approval process is completed.

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D.C. man charged with 2020 anti-gay death threat rearrested

Defendant implicated in three anti-LGBTQ incidents since 2011

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shooting, DC Eagle, assault, hate crime, anti-gay attack, police discrimination, sex police, Sisson, gay news, Washington Blade

A D.C. man arrested in August 2020 for allegedly threatening to kill a gay man outside the victim’s apartment in the city’s Adams Morgan neighborhood and who was released while awaiting trial was arrested again two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill another man in an unrelated incident.

D.C. Superior Court records show that Jalal Malki, who was 37 at the time of his 2020 arrest on a charge of bias-related attempts to do bodily harm against the gay man, was charged on May 4, 2021 with unlawful entry, simple assault, threats to kidnap and injure a person, and attempted possession of a prohibited weapon against the owner of a vacant house at 4412 Georgia Ave., N.W.

Court charging documents state that Malki was allegedly staying at the house without permission as a squatter. An arrest affidavit filed in court by D.C. police says Malki allegedly threatened to kill the man who owns the house shortly after the man arrived at the house while Malki was inside.

According to the affidavit, Malki walked up to the owner of the house while the owner was sitting in his car after having called police and told him, “If you come back here, I’m going to kill you.” While making that threat Malki displayed what appeared to be a gun in his waistband, but which was later found to be a toy gun, the affidavit says.

Malki then walked back inside the house minutes before police arrived and arrested him. Court records show that similar to the court proceedings following his 2020 arrest for threatening the gay man, a judge in the latest case ordered Malki released while awaiting trial. In both cases, the judge ordered him to stay away from the two men he allegedly threatened to kill.

An arrest affidavit filed by D.C. police in the 2020 case states that Malki allegedly made the threats inside an apartment building where the victim lived on the 2300 block of Champlain Street, N.W. It says Malki was living in a nearby building but often visited the building where the victim lived.

“Victim 1 continued to state during an interview that it was not the first time that Defendant 1 had made threats to him, but this time Defendant 1 stated that if he caught him outside, he would ‘fucking kill him.’” the affidavit says. It quotes the victim as saying during this time Malki repeatedly called the victim a “fucking faggot.”

The affidavit, prepared by the arresting officers, says that after the officers arrested Malki and were leading him to a police transport vehicle to be booked for the arrest, he expressed an “excited utterance” that he was “in disbelief that officers sided with the ‘fucking faggot.’”

Court records show that Malki is scheduled to appear in court on June 4 for a status hearing for both the 2020 arrest and the arrest two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill the owner of the house in which police say he was illegally squatting.

Superior Court records show that Malki had been arrested three times between 2011 and 2015 in cases unrelated to the 2021 and 2020 cases for allegedly also making threats of violence against people. Two of the cases appear to be LGBTQ related, but prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not list the cases as hate crimes.

In the first of the three cases, filed in July 2011, Malki allegedly shoved a man inside Dupont Circle and threatened to kill him after asking the man why he was wearing a purple shirt.

“Victim 1 believes the assault occurred because Suspect 1 believes Victim 1 is a homosexual,” the police arrest affidavit says.

Court records show prosecutors charged Malki with simple assault and threats to do bodily harm in the case. But the court records show that on Sept. 13, 2011, D.C. Superior Court Judge Stephen F. Eilperin found Malki not guilty on both charges following a non-jury trial.

The online court records do not state why the judge rendered a not guilty verdict. With the courthouse currently closed to the public and the press due to COVID-related restrictions, the Washington Blade couldn’t immediately obtain the records to determine the judge’s reason for the verdict.

In the second case, court records show Malki was arrested by D.C. police outside the Townhouse Tavern bar and restaurant at 1637 R St., N.W. on Nov. 7, 2012 for allegedly threatening one or more people with a knife after employees ordered Malki to leave the establishment for “disorderly behavior.”

At the time, the Townhouse Tavern was located next door to the gay nightclub Cobalt, which before going out of business two years ago, was located at the corner of 17th and R Streets, N.W.

The police arrest affidavit in the case says Malki allegedly pointed a knife in a threatening way at two of the tavern’s employees who blocked his path when he attempted to re-enter the tavern. The affidavit says he was initially charged by D.C. police with assault with a dangerous weapon – knife. Court records, however, show that prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office lowered the charges to two counts of simple assault. The records show that on Jan. 15, 2013, Malki pleaded guilty to the two charges as part of a plea bargain arrangement.

The records show that Judge Marissa Demeo on that same day issued a sentence of 30 days for each of the two charges but suspended all 30 days for both counts. She then sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for both charges and ordered that he undergo alcohol and drug testing and undergo treatment if appropriate.

In the third case prior to the 2020 and 2021 cases, court records show Malki was arrested outside the Cobalt gay nightclub on March 14, 2015 on multiple counts of simple assault, attempted assault with a dangerous weapon – knife, possession of a prohibited weapon – knife, and unlawful entry.

The arrest affidavit says an altercation started on the sidewalk outside the bar when for unknown reasons, Malki grabbed a female customer who was outside smoking and attempted to pull her toward him. When her female friend came to her aid, Malki allegedly got “aggressive” by threatening the woman and “removed what appeared to be a knife from an unknown location” and pointed it at the woman’s friend in a threatening way, the affidavit says.

It says a Cobalt employee minutes later ordered Malki to leave the area and he appeared to do so. But others noticed that he walked toward another entrance door to Cobalt and attempted to enter the establishment knowing he had been ordered not to return because of previous problems with his behavior, the affidavit says. When he attempted to push away another employee to force his way into Cobalt, Malki fell to the ground during a scuffle and other employees held him on the ground while someone else called D.C. police.

Court records show that similar to all of Malki’s arrests, a judge released him while awaiting trial and ordered him to stay away from Cobalt and all of those he was charged with threatening and assaulting.

The records show that on Sept. 18, 2015, Malki agreed to a plea bargain offer by prosecutors in which all except two of the charges – attempted possession of a prohibited weapon and simple assault – were dropped. Judge Alfred S. Irving Jr. on Oct. 2, 2015 sentenced Malki to 60 days of incarnation for each of the two charges but suspended all but five days, which he allowed Malki to serve on weekends, the court records show.

The judge ordered that the two five-day jail terms could be served concurrently, meaning just five days total would be served, according to court records. The records also show that Judge Irving sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for each of the two counts and ordered that he enter an alcohol treatment program and stay away from Cobalt.

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