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Jackson holds firm in questioning over marriage equality

Texas Republican compares decision to Dred Scott

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From left, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) at the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary on March 22, 2022. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling for same-sex marriage — issued nearly seven years ago in 2015 — is considered settled law and in the rear-view mirror of history for many Americans, but Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) opted to press Ketanji Brown Jackson on the decision as an example of policy-making from the bench in questions during her confirmation hearing.

Jackson, nominated by President Biden to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, stood firm on Tuesday in response to the questions despite lamentations from Cornyn the decision found a due process and right for same-sex couples to marry that overruled the will of the people who voted to ban gay nuptials in his state.

“That is the nature of a right,” Jackson replied. “When there is a right, it means that there are limitations on regulation, even if people are regulating pursuant to their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

In the nearly 15-minute exchange between Cornyn and Jackson, the Texas Republican pressed her on the expansive interpretation by the courts of due process and equal protection clauses, which he said led to decisions condemned to the dustbin of history like Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson.

Cornyn, however, also included with those rulings the 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which he said was a “dramatic departure from previous laws in the states and in the nation.” (Cornyn throughout the questioning had difficulty pronouncing the name “Obergefell,” which at least one time he called the “Ober-fell” case.)

“In the opinions that were written there at the time, it was noted that here we are 234 years after the Constitution had been ratified, 135 years since the 14th Amendment had been ratified, that the Supreme Court articulated a new fundamental right, which is a right to same-sex marriage,” Cornyn said.

Cornyn recalled at the time 11 states and D.C. had legalized same-sex marriage, but said 35 states had put the question on the ballot and 32 had decided to “maintain the traditional definition of marriage between a man and a woman.”

The Texas Republican went on to describe the issue as not just an overriding the will of the states and the people, but also major religions, and asked Jackson if she agrees “marriage is not simply a governmental institution, it’s also a religious institution.”

When Jackson replied, “Well, senator, marriages are often performed in religious institutions,” Cornyn followed up with questioning on whether she agrees many major religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, have defined marriage as one man, one woman (ignoring denominations within those religions, such as Episcopal and Presbyterian Church, that recognize and wed same-sex couples).

Jackson wouldn’t engage with Cornyn beyond what was directly necessary: “I am aware that there are various religious faiths that define marriage in a traditional way.”

That’s when Cornyn framed the Obergefell decision as stepping up a conflict between religious views and the decision of the court.

“Do you see that when the Supreme Court makes a dramatic pronouncement about the invalidity of state marriage laws, that it will inevitably set in conflict between those who ascribe to the Supreme Court’s edict and those who have a firmly held religious belief that marriage is between a man and a woman?” Cornyn asked.

Jackson, as is customary for a nominee up for a seat on the Supreme Court, declined to offer her views, pointing out “these issues are being litigated, as you know, throughout the courts” and therefore she was limited in what she could say.

But Cornyn wouldn’t up let up, pressing Jackson again on the Obergefell ruling. Jackson responded the “nature of the right” found the U.S. Constitution trumps regulation “even if people are regulating pursuant to their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Cornyn continued his questioning by asking whether the concept of marriage is enshrined in the Constitution, drawing on the dissents from Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito lamenting opponents of same-sex marriage will be labeled as bigots.

More broadly, Cornyn went on to lament the substantive due process rights found by the courts as “another way for judges to hide their policymaking under the guise of interpreting the Constitution.”

Jackson gave an answer demonstrating her knowledge of case law, saying courts have found the right to due process to mean “not just procedural rights relative to government action but also the protection of certain personal rights related to intimacy and autonomy.”

“They include things like the right to rear one’s children, I believe the right to travel, the right to marriage, interracial marriage, the right to abortion, contraception,” Jackson said.

Cornyn interjected the same interpretation led to the Dred Scott decision, citing “treating slaves as chattel property” as an another outcome of the expansive intrepretation of the due process clause.

After more questioning from Cornyn on whether “you can use substantive due process to justify basically any result whether it’s conservative or liberal, libertarian or conservative,” he went on to ask Jackson whether she can understand “why ordinary folks wonder, Who do these people think they are? And where does this authority come from?” Jackson, in response, kept her answer simple: “Absolutely, senator, I do understand it.”

It should be noted the Supreme Court has rejected subsequent legal claims to overturn the Obergefell decision, or even to chip away at the decision. Even with the 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, justices in 2020 declined to hear a case brought by Indiana seeking to challenge the decision on the basis of birth certificates for the children for women in same-sex marriages. Alito, however, and Associate Justice Clarance Thomas have declared war on Obergefell, writing in a filing two years ago the ruling falls short in accommodating religious freedom.

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Congress

Anti-LGBTQ provisions removed from NDAA

New version omits restriction on gender affirming care, book and drag bans

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

Anti-LGBTQ provisions submitted by House Republicans to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) have been removed from the defense spending bill, triggering outrage from conservative lawmakers and praise from LGBTQ groups.

The conference version of the bill was released on Thursday.

This week saw the revocation of two measures targeting gender affirming care along with the book ban and drag ban. Language stipulating the list of approved flags that can be flown at military bases was amended such that more flags can be added on a discretionary basis.

“MAGA members of Congress tried to hijack the National Defense Authorization Act to advance their anti-LGBTQ+ agenda, attempting to riddle it with discriminatory riders,” Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf said in a statement to the Washington Blade.

His statement continued, “They failed and equality won. Anti-LGBTQ+ provisions, including efforts to restrict access to gender affirming care, were rejected. The anti-LGBTQ+ agenda continues to be deeply unpopular across the country and a failing political strategy.”

Wolf thanked U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) for “defending equality and defeating attacks on the community.”

Pledging to vote “no” on the bill, Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) said in a post on X, “I was appointed to the NDAA conference committee but NEVER got to work on the final version of the NDAA bc they made the deal behind closed doors and here are the horrible results.”

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Congress

New bill would protect LGBTQ-owned businesses from lending discrimination

Legislation introduced by Sens. Padilla, Gillibrand and Rep. Torres

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

A bicameral bill introduced on Wednesday by U.S. Sens. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), along with U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) would require financial institutions to collect data on access to credit and capital by LGBTQ-owned businesses.

The legislation would thereby allow regulators to better identify and potentially remedy instances of anti-LGBTQ discrimination in these areas.

CNBC reported in June that a study by the Movement Advancement Project found LGBTQ-owned businesses encountered more rejections than non-LGBTQ-owned businesses that applied for funding, amid a tightening of lending standards across the board.

Specifically, the bill would “clarify that Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank) requires financial institutions to collect the self-identified sexual orientation and gender identity of the principal owners of small businesses, in addition to their sex, race, and ethnicity,” according to a press release by Padilla’s office.

The California senator said, “With anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and hate crimes on the rise, LGBTQ+ business owners continue to face persistent and unjust barriers to financial success,” adding that “LGBTQ+-owned small businesses are a cornerstone of local economies, and they deserve equitable resources to help them grow and thrive.”

Padilla’s press release notes the legislation “would also add a definition for businesses owned by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex individuals to the ECOA statute.”

Additionally, “The legislation also includes a Sense of Congress confirming that sexual orientation and gender identity are already covered under the ECOA (including the current data collection requirements)” while clarifying “that the sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity of the principal owners of a business should be collected as three separate forms of information.”

The Congressional Equality Caucus, Ali Forney Center, Center for American Progress, Destination Tomorrow, Drag Out The Vote, Human Rights Campaign, Immigration Equality Action Fund, InterAct, and New Pride Agenda have backed the bill.

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Politics

Endocrine Society corrects misinformation about gender affirming care at GOP debate

Presidential candidates clashed in Ala. on Wednesday.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) (Screen capture/NBC News)

The Endocrine Society, the world’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to the clinical practice of endocrinology, released a statement correcting misinformation about gender affirming healthcare that was spread at the fourth Republican presidential primary debate on Wednesday night.

The group said comments in which Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) characterized care for transgender and gender-diverse youth as child abuse and genital mutilation “do not reflect the health care landscape” and contradict “mainstream medical practice and scientific evidence.”

“Pediatric gender-affirming care is designed to take a conservative approach,” the Endocrine Society wrote. “When young children experience feelings that their gender identity does not match the sex recorded at birth, the first course of action is to support the child in exploring their gender identity and to provide mental health support, as needed.”

The statement continues, “Medical intervention is reserved for older adolescents and adults, with treatment plans tailored to the individual and designed to maximize the time teenagers and their families have to make decisions about their transitions.”

Notwithstanding the remarks by DeSantis, other debate participants, and moderator Megyn Kelly, “gender-affirming genital surgery is rarely offered to anyone under the age of 18,” the statement says.

Additionally, “More than 2,000 scientific studies have examined aspects of gender-affirming care since 1975, including more than 260 studies cited in the Endocrine Society’s Clinical Practice Guideline.”

Other major scientific and medical groups like the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics are “in alignment” with the Endocrine Society on “the importance of gender affirming care,” the statement notes.

Further, research shows it “can be life saving for a population with high suicide rates.”

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