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Biden recognizes LGBTQ survivors in World AIDS Day statement

In contrast, Trump consistently omitted sexual minorities

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President Biden recognized LGBTQ people as among the survivors of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on Tuesday in a statement recognizing World AIDS Day, marking a departure from consistent omissions of the LGBTQ community under the Trump administration.

“Ending the HIV epidemic is within our reach, and we are committed to finishing this work,” Biden said. “On World AIDS Day, we rededicate ourselves to building on the progress of the last 4 decades; upholding and advancing human rights; supporting research, science, and data-driven solutions; expanding access to housing, education, and economic empowerment; and fighting stigma and discrimination. No one living with HIV should suffer the undeserved guilt and prejudice that too many continue to experience.”

Biden, as the world recognizes World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, enumerates LGBTQ people as survivors in a paragraph acknowledging the coronavirus pandemic has presented new obstacles in efforts to beat HIV/AIDS.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the challenges our heroic health care and frontline workers face, yet they continue to deliver essential HIV prevention services and provide vital care and treatment to people living with HIV,” Biden said. “The pandemic has also interrupted HIV research and highlighted the work that still remains to achieve equitable access to HIV prevention, care, and treatment in every community — particularly for communities of color, adolescent girls and young women, and the LGBTQI+ community.”

The inclusion of LGBTQ people in a statement recognizing World AIDS Day stands in contrast to statements from President Trump, who consistently declined to mention the LGBTQ community in each of his statements. The consistent omissions took place even though top health officials under the Trump administration started the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative, which seeks to beat HIV/AIDS by 2030.

Last year, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, asked by the Washington Blade why the LGBTQ community was missing from the 2020 statement, responded with a false statement Trump was the first to observe World AIDS Day by adorning the White House with a large red AIDS ribbon. In fact, the practice began under President George W. Bush and had continued through Obama and Trump administrations.

The inclusion of LGBTQ people in Biden’s World AIDS Day statement is consistent with former President Obama mentioning LGBTQ people as among the survivors of HIV/AIDS in his final World AIDS Day statement. In 2016, Obama acknowledged “gay and bisexual men, transgender people, youth, black and Latino Americans, people living in the Southern United States, and people who inject drugs are at a disproportionate risk” of the disease.

Biden in his World AIDS Day statement says his administration “remains steadfast in our efforts to end the HIV epidemic,” ticking off policies his administration has pursued, including a budget request of $670 million to fight HIV/AIDS domestically and support for global initiatives to fight HIV/AIDS, which he said has save more than 21 million lives.

“This remarkable progress over the past 18 years has been made possible through strong, bipartisan United States leadership and American generosity,” Biden said.

Read Biden’s full statement below:

WORLD AIDS DAY, 2021
 
– – – – – – –
 
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
 
A PROCLAMATION
For decades, World AIDS Day has been recognized as an opportunity for people around the world to stand together in the fight against HIV.  This year on World AIDS Day, we are focused on addressing health inequities and inequalities and ensuring that the voices of people with HIV are at the center of our work to end the HIV epidemic globally.

While we have made remarkable progress in the 40 years since the first-known reported case of AIDS, this disease remains a serious public health challenge — and we join the international community to honor and remember the more than 36 million people, including 700,000 Americans, who have tragically died from AIDS-related illness since the start of the epidemic.  We also renew our commitment to stand with the nearly 38 million people living with HIV around the world as we pursue our shared goal of ending the HIV epidemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the challenges our heroic health care and frontline workers face, yet they continue to deliver essential HIV prevention services and provide vital care and treatment to people living with HIV.  The pandemic has also interrupted HIV research and highlighted the work that still remains to achieve equitable access to HIV prevention, care, and treatment in every community — particularly for communities of color, adolescent girls and young women, and the LGBTQI+ community.

My Administration remains steadfast in our efforts to end the HIV epidemic, confront systems and policies that perpetuate entrenched health inequities, and build a healthier world for all people. Earlier this year, I reinstated the White House Office of National AIDS Policy to coordinate our efforts to reduce the number of HIV infections across our Nation.  This week, my Administration is releasing an updated National HIV/AIDS Strategy to decrease health inequities in new diagnoses and improve access to comprehensive, evidence-based HIV-prevention tools. This updated strategy will make equity a cornerstone of our response and bring a whole-of-government approach to fighting HIV.

My budget request includes $670 million to support the Department of Health and Human Services’ Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. Initiative — to reduce HIV diagnoses and AIDS-related deaths.  My Administration has also strengthened the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS by adding members from diverse backgrounds who bring the knowledge and expertise needed to further our Nation’s HIV response. 

My Administration is committed to helping the world end the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030.  Through the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), we have saved more than 21 million lives, prevented millions of HIV infections, and supported at least 20 countries around the world to reach epidemic control of HIV or achieve their ambitious HIV treatment targets.  This remarkable progress over the past 18 years has been made possible through strong, bipartisan United States leadership and American generosity.  Now, together with partner governments and communities, my Administration is setting a bold vision for achieving sustained epidemic control of HIV by supporting equitable health services and solutions, contributing to improved health for all in PEPFAR-supported countries, and working with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; UNAIDS; and other regional and local partners toward the goal of ending the HIV epidemic everywhere.

Ending the HIV epidemic is within our reach, and we are committed to finishing this work.  On World AIDS Day, we rededicate ourselves to building on the progress of the last 4 decades; upholding and advancing human rights; supporting research, science, and data-driven solutions; expanding access to housing, education, and economic empowerment; and fighting stigma and discrimination.  No one living with HIV should suffer the undeserved guilt and prejudice that too many continue to experience.  We must innovate and explore new ways to help address HIV/AIDS in communities here at home and around the world.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim December 1, 2021, as World AIDS Day.  I urge the Governors of the United States and its Territories, and the American people to join the HIV community in activities to remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS and to provide support, dignity, and compassion to those living with HIV.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-sixth.
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Senate passes Respect for Marriage Act

Bill approved by 61-36 vote margin

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The U.S. Senate voted 61-36 on Tuesday to officially pass the Respect for Marriage Act, a historic piece of legislation that is expected to soon become law after members in the U.S. House of Representatives sign off on a bipartisan amendment added by their Senate colleagues.

Designed as a vehicle to mitigate the fallout if the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority guts the constitutional protections for marriage equality, the bill was narrowly construed — in part to help guarantee that it withstands potential challenges from conservative legal actors.

Nevertheless, the Respect for Marriage Act is a landmark bill that has been backed by virtually every LGBTQ advocacy organization in the country. The legislation repeals the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act while enshrining into law substantive protections for same-sex couples.

Regardless of whether or how the high court might decide to revisit the marriage question, the Respect for Marriage Act will protect the federally ordained rights and benefits that have long been enjoyed by married gay and lesbian couples. And should the court pave the way for conservative states like Texas to renew their bans on same-sex marriage, the law will require them to officially recognize and honor those that are performed in jurisdictions where they remain legal.

Despite earning broad bipartisan support from lawmakers in the House, which passed its version of the bill this summer with an overwhelming majority — including votes from 47 Republican members — the Respect for Marriage Act faced an uncertain future in the Senate.

Conservative members in the chamber’s Republican caucus argued the bill would jeopardize religious freedoms, concerns that a group of five bipartisan senators sought to allay with an amendment that, among other provisions, clarifies the right of religious nonprofit organizations to refuse “any services, facilities, or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.”

Writing the amendment were Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who was considered the driving force behind the bill’s passage through the Senate.

Several Republican senators proposed additional amendments that — per a narrow procedural vote before and another shortly after the Thanksgiving break — were not put up for debate, thereby allowing the Respect for Marriage Act to clear the Senate with Tuesday’s vote.

Barely surpassing the 60-vote filibuster-proof majority with one extra “yea,” the Senate’s passage of the bill came despite the best efforts of conservative opponents who had run coordinated campaigns to erode support among GOP members.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris each issued statements shortly after Tuesday’s vote.

The president celebrated the “bipartisan achievement” by Congress, writing: “For millions of Americans, this legislation will safeguard the rights and protections to which LGBTQI+ and interracial couples and their children are entitled. It will also ensure that, for generations to follow, LGBTQI+ youth will grow up knowing that they, too, can lead full, happy lives and build families of their own.”

Harris wrote: “The Respect for Marriage Act ultimately stands for a simple principle: all Americans are equal and their government should treat them that way. Today, we are one step closer to achieving that ideal with pride.”

The Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus also praised the victory.

“Today, a bipartisan group of 61 Senators made clear that this country will not roll back the clock on marriage equality,” said Congressman David Cicilline (D-R.I.), chair of the Equality Caucus. “The Respect for Marriage Act is a crucial safeguard for LGBTQ+ people whose lives have been forever changed by Obergefell v. Hodges and Americans who are in interracial marriages thanks to Loving v. Virginia. On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court declared marriage equality as the law of the land. Today, the Senate ensured those marriages will continue to be protected.”

LGBTQ groups celebrate the win

“Diverse faith traditions across the nation came together to demand respect for LGBTQ+ Americans – we staked our ground and refused to let this opportunity slip away, ” said Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, president of the Interfaith Alliance, in a statement Tuesday.

“The  LGBTQ+ community has faced ongoing deadly violence, legislative assaults and constant threats — including the deadly shooting in Colorado Springs barely one week ago,” said Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement from the organization.

“Today, with the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act in the Senate — a historic moment that marks the first federal legislative win for LGBTQ+ equality in over 10 years, since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell — the 568,000 same-sex married couples in this country can breathe a sigh of relief that their marriages will be protected from future attacks,” said Robinson, who yesterday began her tenure as the first Black queer woman to lead America’s largest LGBTQ organization.

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis responded on Twitter and in a statement, writing: “As so many LGBTQ people face uncertainty and harm on the state level and extremists on the Supreme Court vow to reconsider the landmark Obergefell decision, this victory will provide comfort and security to millions of people and their families.”

“Today’s bipartisan vote in the Senate to pass the Respect for Marriage Act is a proud moment for our country and an affirmation that, notwithstanding our differences, we share a profound commitment to the principle of equality and justice for all,” reads a statement from National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Imani Rupert-Gordon.

LGBTQ Victory Institute President Annise Parker said, “This landmark piece of legislation protects the marriages of millions of LGBTQ Americans who have not slept well for months, wondering if our marriages would be dissolved by an activist court. While the Respect for Marriage Act is undoubtedly one of the most important pro-LGBTQ laws ever passed, it does not require states to grant marriages to LGBTQ couples. Until then, our fight is not over.”

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U.S. Senate vote clears path for passage of the Respect for Marriage Act

Anti-LGBTQ groups have launched conservative effort to block bill

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U.S. Capitol
Capitol Building dome. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Passage of the Respect for Marriage Act became all but certain with the U.S. Senate’s procedural 61-35 vote on Monday night to forego additional debate in the chamber over the landmark legislation.

From here, the bill will return to the U.S. House of Representatives, which will consider — and is expected to approve — an amendment that was added by a bipartisan group of Senators led by Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). Then, it will reach President Joe Biden’s desk.

The president has repeatedly urged lawmakers to pass the bill so he can sign it into law. His administration, along with Congressional Democratic leadership, has made the Respect for Marriage Act a top legislative priority in the weeks before the new Congress is seated in January.

Today’s move by the Senate came on the heels of a coordinated campaign by conservative and anti-LGBTQ advocacy groups that wield considerable influence on Capitol Hill and marshaled their efforts to peel off support from Republican senators in the days leading up to Monday’s vote.

Republican Sens. Todd Young (Ind.) and Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), who were among the 12 Senate Republicans who supported advancing the legislation in a procedural vote taken before Thanksgiving, cast the final two votes on Monday allowing the measure to clear the 60-vote majority threshold to pass. Axios reports the two lawmakers faced particular pressure from conservative activists who sought to erode their support for the legislation.

The Respect for Marriage Act will repeal the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act, adding legal protections for same-sex couples, many of whom would otherwise face devastating consequences if the U.S. Supreme Court reverses or substantially weakens the constitutional right to marriage equality.

Notwithstanding criticism from some progressives who feel the bill is too conservative in scope, the Respect for Marriage Act — along with the bipartisan amendment that was introduced in the Senate to enshrine protections for religious liberty — is supported by major LGBTQ organizations including the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Transgender Equality, GLSEN and PFLAG National, among others.

The bill’s aim, narrowly tailored, was to gird against the possibility that the high court would revisit its precedential decisions in United States v. Windsor (2013) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015).

Justice Clarence Thomas signaled his intention to do so with his concurring opinion earlier this year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — a case that revoked Americans’ constitutional right to abortion, overturning the Court’s historic rulings in Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992).

Over the summer, the House passed the Respect for Marriage Act with an overwhelming majority, including votes from 47 Republican members. Dozens of religious denominations and groups that represent a broad spectrum of beliefs have endorsed the legislation, including the Mormon church, which took pains to reaffirm its position that same-sex relationships are sinful. Scholars representing a similarly diverse range of opinions on germane legal questions have also publicly backed the bill.

Still, the opposition remained steadfast.

“Religious Americans will be subject to potentially ruinous litigation, while the tax-exempt status of certain charitable organizations, educational institutions, and non-profits will be threatened,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in a statement opposing the legislation as written and proposing an additional amendment to the bill.

Organizations like the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, echoed Lee’s concerns about the Respect for Marriage Act vis-à-vis protections for religious liberty. Others, like the Liberty Counsel, designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group, peddled outrageous arguments including the lie that the Respect for Marriage Act would normalize or facilitate child sexual exploitation and abuse.

Even in the aftermath of the deadly shooting on Nov. 19 at a Colorado Springs, Colo., LGBTQ nightclub, these attacks from conservative groups continued apace and even increased as the Senate’s vote on Monday drew nearer.

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Amendment to weaken Respect for Marriage Act targets D.C.

Norton calls measure by Utah Sen. Lee ‘attack’ on LGBTQ residents

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U.S. Sen. Mike Lee seeks to weaken the Respect for Marriage Act. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton released a statement on Thursday disclosing that an amendment introduced by U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to weaken the Respect for Marriage Act includes little-noticed language that would prohibit D.C. from enforcing laws protecting same-sex couples from discrimination.

Norton’s statement came one day after 12 GOP senators joined all 50 Democratic senators to approve a procedural motion known as cloture to block a filibuster and allow the Respect for Marriage Act to come up for a full Senate vote.

The act, which was passed by the House of Representatives earlier this year, would enshrine marriage equality into federal law, preventing states from banning same-sex marriage if the U.S. Supreme Court reverses its historic 2015 Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

Lee, who is among the Republican senators who opposes the Respect for Marriage Act, introduced his amendment on Nov. 16 shortly before the cloture motion was approved by a 62 to 37 vote. He was expected to introduce it again at the time the Respect for Marriage Act came up for a final vote on the Senate floor, which Capitol Hill observers say could take place this week.

Norton said she has called on the Senate to reject the Lee amendment. A spokesperson for Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), one of the lead sponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act, said no action was taken on the amendment on Wednesday, Nov. 16, and it was expected to receive little or no support if Lee were to introduce it again.

“Specifically, the amendment would prohibit D.C. from taking certain adverse actions, such as denying grants or contracts, against individuals and entities that otherwise unlawfully discriminate against same-sex couples if such individuals or entities have a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is a union of individuals of the opposite sex,” Norton said in her statement.

“While the amendment is framed as prohibiting the federal government from taking adverse action for violations of federal law, it defines the term federal government and federal law to include the D.C. government and D.C. law, respectively,” Norton said.

“This amendment is an attack on all LGBTQ+ Americans, but it also uniquely attacks D.C.’s LGBTQ+ residents,” said Norton in her statement. “Senator Mike Lee, who professes to support local control of local affairs, regularly tries to use Congress’ undemocratic power over D.C. to interfere in D.C.’s local affairs,” she said. “I have defeated all his prior attempts to interfere in D.C.’s local affairs, and I will defeat this one, too.”

In his own statement released on Nov. 16, Lee says the religious protections added to the Respect for Marriage Act as a bipartisan compromise among Senate Democrats and several key Republican senators, including Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), were “severely anemic and largely illusory.”

Lee said in his statement that supporters of the bill were misleading the public by claiming it would merely codify in federal law the Obergefell Supreme Court ruling.

“Religious Americans will be subject to potentially ruinous litigation, while the tax-exempt status of certain charitable organizations, educational institutions, and non-profits will be threatened,” his statement says. “My amendment would have shored up these vulnerabilities. It is a shame it wasn’t included,” he said, referring to lack of support for a vote to take it up on Nov. 16.

Eli Rosen, a spokesperson for Baldwin, told the Blade on Thursday that a bipartisan coalition of both Democratic and Republican senators as well as religious leaders strongly dispute Lee’s claim that the current Senate version of the Respect for Marriage Act will be harmful to religious organizations.

Rosen points out that religious universities and the Mormon Church are part of the coalition that supports the Senate’s changed version of the act, which was expected to be voted on Thursday or possibly shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday if the vote doesn’t take place this week. He noted that upon approval by the Senate, the measure would go back to the House, which was expected to approve the changes made to the House bill through the Senate compromise language.

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