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Bills introduced to codify same-sex marriage

Repeal of Roe has increased urgency to secure privacy rights

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U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) speaks outside the U.S. Capitol on July 18, 2022. She and other lawmakers have called for the codification of marriage equality in law in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down Roe v. Wade. (Washington Blade photo by Josh Alburtus)

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision that rescinded the nationwide right to abortion, members of Congress are now moving on multiple tracks to protect other privacy-related rights they now perceive as under threat.

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, on Monday introduced legislation alongside bipartisan co-sponsors that would codify marriage equality in federal law, repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and establish recognition protections for out-of-state marriages.

In a statement released following the introduction of the bill — titled the Respect for Marriage Act — Nadler connected what he felt as the necessity of such legislation to the Supreme Court’s opinion released in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

“Three weeks ago, a conservative majority on the Supreme Court not only repealed Roe v. Wade and walked back 50 years of precedent, it signaled that other rights, like the right to same-sex marriage, are next on the chopping block,” Nadler said. “As this court may take aim at other fundamental rights, we cannot sit idly by as the hard-earned gains of the Equality movement are systematically eroded.”

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced a companion bill in the U.S. Senate. The two measures join similar pieces of privacy-related legislation like the Women’s Health Protection Act, which the U.S. House of Representatives passed in an effort to codify nationwide abortion rights.

The Respect for Marriage Act’s introduction came on the same day members of Congress renewed their efforts to modify the structure of the Supreme Court altogether.

The Judiciary Act of 2021 seeks to increase the number of seats on the court to balance its judicial ideology.

In a press conference on Capitol Hill on Monday, Democratic lawmakers joined the heads of multiple national advocacy groups in calling on Congress to expand the court from nine seats to 13.

“We just cannot sit back as a captive court captures our rights,” U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said. “Expanding the court is constitutional, it has been done before, we can do it now. And the reason we support this approach is that it is constitutional, it is immediate, and it does the job of dealing with the crisis of today.”

While lawmakers at the press conference expressed support for the codification legislation, they believe expanding the court will be more likely to stand up to potential challenges.

“You should not forget, though, that anything that the legislature passes, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter as to whether or not it is constitutional or not,” U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said. “And so, that gives you some idea of this second track that you’re talking about. Yes, we can pass legislation, but that legislation would be challenged across the street and this right-wing, Republican, extremist Supreme Court which has been captured by money interests — the future is not bright with the current arrangement so that’s why we need to pass the Judiciary Act of 2021.”

With regard to codification legislation, however, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) told the Washington Blade at the press conference that she is certain of Congress’ ability to secure its passage.

“I suspect that there will be a strong support for all of these legislative initiatives,” Lee said. “And I will suspect that in the Senate, it is a different atmosphere now, and because we have to be dual track — one, dealing with the reversal of the Supreme Court decisions. And what do the American people look to? They look to their legislative body — particularly Congress — to represent the majority of their views.”

Democratic leadership in Congress has endorsed various legislation working to codify such rights as same-sex marriage and nationwide abortion access. Many have been hesitant, however, to get behind efforts to expand the number of justices on the Supreme Court — a stance shared President Joe Biden.

But approaching a midterm election with prospects of a Republican-controlled Congress — coupled with low overall approval ratings for the president — Democrats have framed their efforts as both urgent and mandated by the people.

“I think there is a movement, a momentum, a push by the American people to do justice and to do it justly and they’re asking us to do our jobs and that’s what we’re doing,” Lee said.

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Congress

Members of Congress call for gender-neutral travel documents

Letter sent to the State Department, DHS on Tuesday

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(Public domain photo)

California Congressman Adam Schiff and 18 other House Democrats on Tuesday sent a letter to the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security that encourages them to make the “X” gender marker available for all U.S. passport applications and Trusted Travelers programs.

A spokesperson for Schiff told the Washington Blade in an email:

“The letter was inspired by a constituent who reached out to our office trying to get an emergency passport appointment with an ‘X’ gender marker — right now you can only get rush passport service with the ‘X’ gender marker at one passport agency in D.C., so if they had gone through the L.A. passport agency, they only would have been able to get a passport with the M or F gender marker. Our office was able to resolve the case successfully, but it inspired our team to figure out a legislative solution that will help LGBTQI+ individuals access these services in the future.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in March 2021 announced passports with an “X” gender marker will be available starting April 11.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym last October received the first gender-neutral American passport.

In Tuesday’s letter, the House members noted that while State Department and the Department of Homeland Security made history by expanding the gender marker options available for U.S. passports and TSA PreCheck applications, creating a new “X” marker for individuals who identify as unspecified or another gender identity.

“The departments have yet to implement the ‘X’ gender marker for their wide range of passport services and application forms, including the rush, non-routine, and Trusted Traveler programs such as Global Entry that are currently accessible to other travelers.”

The letter also highlights: “As long as the Department of State fails to provide non-routine services to individuals seeking an ‘X’ as their gender marker, non-binary applicants will continue to face an undue and unjust burden when pursuing international travel. The State Department’s current timeline to provide these services by late 2023, with no clear date released to the public, would deny these travelers equal access for far too long. Moreover, the Department of Homeland Security’s current policy limitations simply force non-binary travelers to choose a gender that does not reflect their gender identity.”

The members and concerned LGBTQ and intersex advocacy groups who endorsed the letter are asking the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to ensure.

  • Solidified and accelerated implementation of the “X” gender marker option for passport cards, emergency passports printed at embassies and consulates, Consular Reports of Birth Abroad (CRBAs) and on Trusted Traveler Programs forms
  • A public date by which the “X” gender marker will be available for applicants for all passport services and application forms

Schiff was joined by U.S. Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Dwight Evans (D-Pa.), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).

Schiff’s office also noted that this request was endorsed by COLAGE, Equality California, Equality Federation, Family Equality, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, Human Rights Campaign, Los Angeles LGBTQ Center, National Center for Transgender Equality and the Trevor Project.

Additional reporting by Michael K. Lavers

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Rep. Mondaire Jones makes video of getting second monkeypox vaccine

Outbreak now disproportionately affecting Black men

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Rep,. Mondaire Jones made a video of him getting the second monkeypox vaccine. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), at a time when racial disparities in the monkeypox outbreak are becoming more pronounced, took a visible role Tuesday in embracing efforts to contain the disease, putting out a video of him obtaining a vaccine.

Jones, who is one of two openly gay Black members of Congress, is shown in the video outside of Westchester Medical Center’s drive-through clinic in Westchester County, N.Y., saying he just received his second dose of the monkeypox vaccine.

“Monkeypox is hitting LGBTQ+ communities of color particularly hard,” Jones said in a tweet. “The most effective way to stop the spread is to get vaccinated and to talk about it — to overcome stigma and misinformation. I did my part and got vaccinated. You should, too.”

The video comes out as racial disparities persist in the monkeypox outbreak, even though the number of new cases overall is beginning to decline. In the week of Sept. 4, Black people represented 41 percent of the cases and Latinos represented 27 percent, while 26 percent were white and three percent were Asian, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control.

Jones, who had represented New York’s 17th congressional district, was unable to obtain the Democratic nomination to run again for Congress after redistricting in New York and is set to leave at the end of his term.

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Senate Dems weigh including same-sex marriage bill in budget stopgap

Legislative maneuver enables speedier approach

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Senate Democrats are weighing the inclusion of a marriage bill in a budget stopgap. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Senate Democrats upon return from August recess are weighing whether to include a provision seeking to codify same-sex marriage into law as part of a measure that would temporarily continue funding the government as lawmakers hammer out the budget for the upcoming year.

Something senior Senate Democrats have been considering in recent days is possibly adding marriage equality to the continuing resolution, a Capitol Hill source with knowledge of the talks told the Washington Blade on Tuesday morning. The news was first reported by Jake Sherman of PunchBowl News.

Supporters of the Respect for Marriage Act, which seeks to codify same-sex marriage into law amid fears the U.S. Supreme Court may rescind it after its decision overturning Roe v. Wade, have said they’ve been working on securing 10 Republican votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. The House approved the legislation in July.

Four Republicans have signaled they would support the bill, at least in some capacity: Susan Collins (Maine), Rob Portman (Ohio), Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.). Johnson, however, has changed his tune recently and said an amendment for religious accommodations is necessary.

Whether or not the marriage bill is included in the continuing resolution, the measure would still require 60 votes. The approach in the stopgap budget, however, would enable speedier movement with limited time remaining on the legislative schedule.

Some internal pushback has emerged on the idea to include same-sex marriage in the continuing resolution: A Senate Democratic aide familiar with the Respect for Marriage Act told the Blade supporters are still working on obtaining 60 votes for a standalone bill and a provision in the budget stopgap would be a “last resort.”

“I think conventional wisdom would say if all things fall apart, maybe that’s our route for some must pass bill,” the aide said. “But as of now, the coalition that is supporting the bill [is] still working with colleagues to find the 10 Republican votes, and we’re confident we’ll be able to.”

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