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House passes bill to protect same-sex marriage in bipartisan vote

Lawmakers approved measure 267-157

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The House approved the Respect for Marriage Act on a bipartisan vote.

The U.S. House approved on Tuesday with significant bipartisan support the Respect for Marriage Act, which would codify marriage rights for same-sex couples amid fears those rights are at risk in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

Lawmakers approved the measure, introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), by a 267-157 vote, with 47 Republicans joining the unanimous Democratic caucus in supporting the legislation.

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), a Black lawmaker who is one of nine openly gay or lesbian members of Congress, was among those who spoke on the House floor ahead of the vote and said the vote on the measure was “personal” for him.

“I still remember where I was on June 24, 2011 — the day the New York State Legislature passed marriage equality,” Jones said. “I was living with friends in New York City, but I was still closeted, and I was so afraid still that someone might find out the truth about my being gay. So, instead, I closed the door to my room and cried tears of joy by my lonesome. Finally, my home state of New York had recognized me as a full human being. Affirmed all of those scary, yet beautiful, feelings that I had bottled up inside for decades – wondering, hoping, one day the world would change.”

A key motivation for advancing the Respect for Marriage Act was the concurring opinion to the Dobbs decision written by U.S. Associate Justice Clarence Thomas. In it, he spelled out his inclination to revisit landmark decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court, including the Obergefell decision for same-sex marriage as well as the 2003 ruling striking down state sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas and the 1965 decision striking down state bans on contraception in Griswold v. Connecticut.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) drew on Thomas’s concurrence in her remarks on the House floor in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act, saying it was evidence of a greater plot from the Republican Party to undermine the right for same-sex couples to marry.

“We must act now to defend same-sex and interracial marriage from the bigotry and extremism in the wake of the Dobbs decision,” Pelosi said. “With marriage rights now squarely in Republican crossfires, Democrats are ferociously fighting back. With a landmark Respect for Marriage Act, we ensure that marriage equality remains the law of the land now and for generations to come.”

The Respect for Marriage Act wouldn’t keep same-sex marriage the law of the land if the Supreme Court were to strike down Obergefell per se, but rather repeal from the books the Defense of Marriage Act, which the Supreme Court struck down in 2013, and require states to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. There would be constitutional issues if Congress required states to accommodate same-sex couples in their marriage laws, which have been under the jurisdiction of the states.

A number of Republicans broke ranks with their caucus to vote in favor of the legislation. Log Cabin Republicans, which has taken a mixed approach to LGBTQ issues in recent years, was among the organizations encouraging lawmakers to vote in favor of the bill.

Republican leadership in the U.S. House didn’t whip the vote — one way or the other — ahead of the floor vote for the Respect for Marriage Act, two Republican insiders told the Washington Blade.

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), one of the 47 Republicans who voted in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act, told top Republicans in their caucus meeting that morning they wouldn’t whip the vote on the bill.

“I always have and always will support the right of any American to marry,” Mace said in a statement. “This vote is no different. I believe any two people, regardless of the color of their skin or gender or orientation or otherwise, should be free to enter into marriage together. If gay couples want to be as happily or miserably married as straight couples, more power to them.”

But the majority held the vote with some declaring on the House floor the Respect for Marriage would impede on states’ rights.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) was among those on the House floor decrying the Democratic leadership for forcing a vote on the Respect for Marriage Act.

“We’re going to make a decision here about the recognition of marriages across state lines, where there are differences of opinion, still to this day, about how one defines marriage,” Roy said. “In the name of full faith and credit…Republicans will be voting on this floor today on the question of whether the federal government should tell Texas what marriage is they have to recognize, irrespective of what the court has said. That is a vote. That is a choice.”

The Respect for Marriage Act now heads to the U.S. Senate, where it will face an uphill battle in a chamber that requires 60 votes to end a filibuster and advance to a vote on legislation. The Blade has placed a request in with the office of Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) seeking comment on when he’d schedule a floor vote on the bill.

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Maryland

Bomb threat shuts down Takoma Park holiday drag show

MotorKat evacuated when Tara Hoot was performing

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Tara Hoot was performing at MotorKat in Takoma Park, Md., on Dec. 9, 2023, when a bomb threat forced the business' evacuation. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Police cordoned off a popular strip in Takoma Park on Saturday after a bomb threat shut down businesses, including a holiday performance by drag artist Tara Hoot.

MotorKat General Manager Mike Rothman told the Washington Blade that Takoma Park police notified them of a bomb threat to their business around noon.

Tara Hoot was delivering a holiday brunch performance at the MotorKat when the evacuation order came in.

Rothman said they were notified “five minutes into her final performance.” Tara Hoot herself told the audience to leave for their safety.

Police proceeded to tape off the area and evacuated all businesses between Eastern and South Carroll Avenues, including TakomaBevCo, which is co-owned by MotorKat Wine Director Seth Cook.

Cook told the Blade that police brought in “bomb-sniffing dogs” to clear the area before allowing businesses to reopen around 2 p.m.

“The timing is unfortunate as this is one of the busiest weekends before the holidays,” Cook said.

Rothman was also disappointed by the lost revenue due to what ultimately was a false threat, but he was firm that the Takoma Park LGBTQ community is resilient and would continue to thrive despite this setback.

“Takoma Park is a pretty proud and resilient community,” he said. “I don’t expect people to lay down and be scared by this.”

MotorKat and TakomaBevCo reopened for business around 3 p.m.

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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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India

Transgender people seek government job consideration in India’s Maharashtra state

Court petition filed on Nov. 29

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Transgender flags (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Ancient texts in India have recorded the history and cultural importance of transgender people, but the community is still marginalized and vulnerable in the country. Although the government offers many vulnerable castes a specific number of slots for education and government jobs, trans people still have no such benefit and continue to face discrimination across the nation. 

Three trans people from Maharashtra state on Nov. 29 filed an application to the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal seeking slots for trans people in government jobs and a “third gender” option in online job applications. Two applicants had applied for police officer posts, while the other had applied for a revenue officer post — both of which are government jobs in India.

While hearing the application, the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal, a court that has all the powers of the High Court, said it cannot direct the state government to give slots for trans people in public employment and education. The Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal did say, however, that the state government should take more steps towards inclusivity for the community in mainstream society.

Maharashtra’s government told the tribunal it would not be possible to provide slots to trans people in government jobs or education. 

The Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal in a 26-page order directed the state government to give applicants the necessary points to qualify for the job if the applicant has secured 50 percent of the total marks for the concerned post. The tribunal also directed the government to provide age relaxation to trans applicants if they earned 45 points.

In India, every government job seeker goes through an examination to qualify for the job. Government job examinations are one of the toughest in India because there are millions of applications for a few positions, resulting in the need to secure higher marks to get a position.

More than one million applicants applied for 18,331 police officer positions in 2022. The government, however, provides slots to backward class applicants and gives points relaxation in examinations. Trans people in India are most marginalized and vulnerable with no slots in education or employment.

Retired Justice Mridula Bhatkar, who chairs the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal and member Medha Gadgil in the ruling said the fact that not a single trans person who has come out received a job in the government sector speaks volumes.

“The transgender people are humans and are citizens of our great country who are waiting for their inclusion in the mainstream,” said the tribunal. “We have historical, mythological and cultural instances of eunuchs and their participation in political, social or cultural fields.”

The tribunal also said trans people are in the minority. 

Although the majority forms the government, the majority cannot suppress the rights of marginalized sections of society. The tribunal further added the situation in which the trans community finds itself is worse than what women faced in the past while demanding equality.

The tribunal highlighted the mere acknowledgment of the separate identity of trans people was not enough, but they also need to be given opportunities in government jobs.

“The State of Maharashtra has been very progressive in its thought and culture,” said the tribunal. “Therefore, it is desirable on the part of the government to take necessary measures to enable these transgender applicants to get jobs in the government sector.”

The tribunal mentioned Indian Constitution prohibits any kind of discrimination based on sex under articles 15 and 16.

“To get into public employment is a handicapped race for transgenders,” said the tribunal. “Though they are not physically disabled and are able-bodied persons, their activities, actions, growth are paralyzed due to the negative approach of society, family in all schools, colleges in all places at all levels.”

While representing the petitioners, Kranti LC, a lawyer, said that the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Chattisgarh, Karnataka, Jharkhand and Bihar have provided reservations to trans people. The tribunal, however, noted it understands the state has reached the limit of vertical slot of 62 percent, but ordered the law can reach equality and harmony through social engineering.

“The courts are for justice and cannot ignore any societal problem when placed before it,” said the tribunal. “Under such circumstances, though courts are not the lawmakers while interpreting the law, a legally permissible solution is to be applied to meet the ends of justice.”

According to the Indian Supreme Court’s 1992 Indra Sawhney vs. Union of India ruling, nine judges upheld the 50 percent ceiling on slots and denied slots in promotion in government jobs. This means no government agencies or institutions can give slots more than 50 percent of total job openings. Maharashtra state already crossed the limit.

“It is very unfortunate, because transgender people are one of the most vulnerable people in India, and of the most marginalized population in our country,” said Kalki Subramaniam, a trans rights activist and founder of Sahodari Foundation, an organization that works for trans Indians. “For the horizontal reservation, we need to get the support of our government. We need to sensitize our members of Parliament. I think, all political parties do support (the) transgender community, and do understand the plight of the community and difficulties we face.”

Kalki told the Washington Blade the community needs to work hard. She said the community needs to start campaigning for horizontal slots. She said the community needs to MPs to get the necessary support for it.

While talking to the Blade, Rani Patel, an activist and founder of Aarohan, a nonprofit organization that works with trans Indians, said that it is right that the trans community needs to have reservations in jobs and education so that they can be mainstreamed in the society.

“I have been working with the transgender community for last 11 years in Delhi. We had worked very hard for the scraping of section 377,” said Patel. “All the equality and rights given by the Supreme Court of India is of no use until and unless they are not provided with reservation, because there is a stigma in the society against the transgender people, the community feel rejected and detached from the society.”

Patel told the Blade that only a few trans children are getting an education in the country. She said most of the trans people in India need to be skilled in whichever field for which they have an interest. Patel further said that while getting skills, the government should provide slots to trans people, otherwise giving skills will be of no use.

Patel and Aarohan were instrumental in drafting the Delhi government’s trans bill.

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion.

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