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Senate insiders bullish on marriage vote as summer recess nears

More than 10 Republicans possible ‘yes’ votes

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Sen. Tammy Baldwin is taking a lead role in finding votes for the Respect for Marriage Act.

Senate insiders are bullish on the prospect of a measure seeking to codify same-sex marriage after an unexpected bipartisan vote for the measure in the U.S. House as some predict lawmakers could find the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster and vote to send it to President Biden’s desk, although concerns remain about limited time on the congressional calendar.

With support for same-sex marriage at a record high — 7-in-10 Americans support gay nuptials — insiders told the Washington Blade the Senate could approve the Respect for Marriage Act with the 10 Republicans needed to end a filibuster — or even more. The major obstacles for the measure are finding a time period to put the bill up for a vote in the Senate, waiting for senators out with COVID to return to work, and rounding up enough Republican support.

One LGBTQ lobbyist, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said “we’re in a good place” with votes on the measure, although whether or not 60 votes are present is hard to know until Senate Democratic leadership ultimately brings up the bill for a vote.

“I think this is one of those things where I think we are absolutely close, and I think we should move forward when we can, which I hoped would be really soon, ideally, to try to have a vote,” the lobbyist said.

Lawmakers approved the Respect for Marriage Act by a 267-157 vote, with 47 Republicans joining the unanimous Democratic caucus in supporting the legislation. One-fourth of the House Republican caucus voted for the measure, dubbed the Respect for Marriage Act. The measure would need a smaller share of Republicans in the Senate, one-fourth, to obtain the 60 votes necessary to end a filibuster in the chamber.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the first out lesbian senator, was the subject of a recent profile in Politico and was quoted as saying she has spoken to at least 10 Republican senators. One LGBTQ lobbyist said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Wis.), the sponsor of the bill in the Senate, is active in the lobbying process through notes to her staff. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), an original co-sponsor of the measure, and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who has a gay son and was an early Republican supporter of same-sex marriage, are taking an active role in lobbying the Republican caucus, insiders said.

In addition to Collins and Portman, a handful of Republicans have declared support for the Respect for Marriage Act, including Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C), who once voted for same-sex partner benefits; and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who has supported LGBTQ rights measures in the past. A fifth and unlikely Republican, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), has said he sees “no reason to oppose the measure.”

Other Republicans have been non-committal, such as Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who has a reputation as a moderate, but years ago was once a champion of a proposed constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage nationwide, or announced they would oppose the measure, such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who pointedly called the measure a “stupid waste of time” and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). One Republican, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), surprisingly told reporters he’s OK with same-sex marriage, but hasn’t indicated specifically which way he’ll come down on the bill.

Romney, despite his history of opposition to same-sex marriage, may be in play, one LGBTQ lobbyist said, given his new image as a moderate and getting breathing space from Utah lawmakers in the House who were among the 47 Republicans to vote for the Respect for Marriage Act. Other potential votes identified are Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).

Complicating matters is that a number of senators are out sick. Murkowski and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) have been out after contracting COVID, while Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the longest-serving member of the Senate, has been out with a fractured hip he suffered from a fall at his house in McLean, Va. One Republican insider said there is an effort to schedule a vote in the Senate, but that was scrapped with the number of senators absent, although another LGBTQ insider pushed back on that and said a vote may still happen this week.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), following the bipartisan vote for the Respect for Marriage Act in the House, expressed interest on the Senate floor in bringing the measure up for a vote, although he hasn’t specified any time as lawmakers are preparing to exit for the August recess. A Schumer spokesperson said he didn’t have a timing update and referred the Blade to the senator’s public remarks on the measure.

Time, however, is running out. Not only is the calendar limited before Congress adjourns for August recess, but one LGBTQ lobbyist said time is not on the side of Respect for Marriage Act as social conservatives are beginning to mount aggressive campaigns against the measure.

Schumer, asked about the Respect for Marriage Act during a weekly reporter stakeout Tuesday, said “yes” in response to a question on whether the bill remains a priority before Congress adjourns for August recess.

“OK, the bottom line is that we care very much about the Equality Act, the Marriage Equality Act,” Schumer added. “We are trying, working real hard to get 10 Republican senators. Between that and the illnesses, we’re not there yet.”

Dangerous amendments also remain a possibility. Unlike the House, which proceeded with the Respect for Marriage Act under a closed rule, the same option isn’t available in the Senate, where proposed amendments are determined by agreement among caucus leaders. One LGBTQ lobbyist, however, downplayed the threat of amendments, saying there may be some that would be acceptable if they would win the vote of additional supporters while objectionable changes could be voted down with bipartisan support.

The measure is advancing through Congress amid fears same-sex marriage is under threat after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, when U.S. Associate Justice Clarence Thomas writing in a concurrence he’d like to revisit the the Obergefell decision along with the Lawrence v. Texas and Griswold v. Connecticut cases. No other justices signed Thomas’s concurrence, nor is any state legislature or court case advancing a challenge to marriage rights for same-sex couples.

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.

The marriage bill, which would codify existing law and make no additional changes, has momentum and is poised for a vote in the Senate, while the Equality Act, a measure that would expand long-sought after non-discrimination protections in federal law, remains pending in the chamber and is all but dead. No Republican support currently exists for the Equality Act, unlike the Respect for Marriage Act.

One LGBTQ lobbyist said anytime a LGBTQ rights measure like the Respect for Marriage Act gets a win, it can only have a positive impact on other measures, but was ultimately circumspect about expressing optimism for any prospects for a non-discrimination bill.

“As far as the clock on this Congress, we don’t have a lot of time left,” the lobbyist said. “While I think we were getting closer to 60 on something on non-discrimination protections, maybe not the full Equality Act, it’s hard to see the time working in our favor for this Congress, but I do think this vote in broad strokes helps us.”

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District of Columbia

Another gay couple assaulted in D.C. in suspected hate crime

Two men holding hands when hit from behind by group of attackers

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Chuck Johnson (left) and J.P. Singh were assaulted in June. (Photo courtesy the couple)

A gay male couple informed the Washington Blade this week that they were assaulted by a group of young men on June 17, at least of one of whom shouted the word “faggots,” while the couple was holding hands walking home on the 1500 block of T Street, N.W. a few doors away from their house.

One of the two men suffered a broken jaw and fractured thumb when two or three of the attackers punched and kicked him in the head and face after knocking him to the ground, according to a D.C. police report that lists the incident as a suspected anti-gay hate crime.

The incident took place about six weeks before another gay male couple was attacked and punched in the head and face by a group of young males appearing in their late teens as at least one of them shouted “monkeypox faggots.” The incident occurred on Aug. 7 along the 1700 block of 7th Street, N.W. in the Shaw neighborhood as the men were walking to a nearby bus stop.

D.C. police, who have released photos of two suspects in the Aug. 7 incident and a photo of one suspect in the June 17 case, say no arrests have been made in either of the cases but both cases remain under active investigation.

The two victims in the June 17 case identified themselves as J.P. Singh, Professor of Global Commerce and Policy at George Mason University, and Charles D. “Chuck” Johnson Jr., CEO and President of the Aluminum Association industry trade organization. They initially identified themselves in a little-noticed article about the incident that they wrote and published on June 23 in the blog Medium in which they also posted a photo of themselves.   

“We, JP and Chuck, are a middle-age interracial gay couple,” the two wrote in the article. “We have been together for nearly 27 years, and live in a gay neighborhood in Washington, DC.  On Friday, June 17, while walking back from the gym at 10 p.m. and holding hands, a group of young African American men assaulted us on our street,” the two wrote.

Their article goes on to explore issues surrounding racial justice and crime, and the possible impact of the Black Lives Matter movement on police response to crime, including anti-LGBTQ hate crimes, among other related issues.

 “Assaults like ours open wounds in our society around race and LGBTQ issues,” they state in the article. “Through writing this article, we want to emphasize context and healing, and not encourage racialized ways of thinking that we associate with divisive tactics.”

Singh told the Blade the incident began on T Street, N.W., steps away from their house and in front of the house of gay D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kyle Mulhull. He said a group of the attackers approached him and Johnson from behind and the couple didn’t see the attackers until they were struck with punches.

“Before we knew it, I heard Chuck yell,” Singh said. “And when I turned to him, I felt a punch on my ear.”

According to Singh’s account, the attackers ran toward 15th Street and Johnson ran after them presumably to be able to inform police of their location, with the intent that the attackers could be apprehended.

But Singh said that another group of attackers emerged from an alley and appeared to have joined the first group and began assaulting Johnson again. The D.C. police report says officers responding to a 911 call from Johnson arrived on the scene when Victim 1, who was Johnson, was observed at the intersection of 15th and U Streets, N.W.

“The officers observed that Victim 1 was bleeding from his mouth as a result of the assault,” the report says. The report says the officers call the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department for assistance.

“Victim 1 stated that he and Victim 2 were walking eastbound in the 1500 block of T St., N.W. when 4 to 8 suspects approached from behind and assaulted them with punches,” the report continues. “Victim 1 stated that at least one of the suspects yelled homophobic slurs at him as the assault was perpetrated.

Singh said he accompanied Johnson to the emergency room where he was treated and underwent surgery two days later to treat his jaw, which was broken in two places. Singh said Johnson was also treated for a fractured thumb.

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Comings & Goings

Brian Reach joins Arlington Food Assistance Center

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Brian Reach

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected].

Congratulations to Brian Reach on his new position as Associate Director of Marketing and Communications of the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC). Reach has more than 18 years of experience in the nonprofit sector and deep roots in Northern Virginia.  

Charles Meng, CEO of AFAC said, “I’m very pleased to have Brian Reach on our staff as we enter a new and very challenging year. A year when even more families suffering from inflation in food and fuel are coming to our doors seeking help.” 

Jolie Smith, director of development at AFAC added, “Brian will be a wonderful addition to the AFAC development team as we start our new year with a strong focus on new opportunities outside of Arlington County. Given his experience, he’ll be a significant part of our new growth and development.”  

Reach previously worked at MCI USA (formerly The Coulter Companies) in a number of positions including director of Information Systems and Credentialing. Before that he was with the Interstitial Cystitis Association as its nonprofit coordinator/accounts receivable coordinator; and the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology, Fairfax, Va., as Education coordinator.

Reach is an activist and leader in the LGBTQ community. He currently serves as president and executive director of NOVA Pride, a 501c3 he founded in 2011, as well as on other LGBTQ boards and task forces. A Northern Virginia local, whose grandparents met at Fairfax High School, he is extremely passionate about the area and is personally dedicated to making an impact on the lives of his neighbors in need. He has worked on political campaigns in Virginia for Jennifer Wexton, Justin Fairfax, Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton, John Kerry, Chap Peterson, and Al Gore.

Reach is currently attending George Mason University and was a business major at Northern Virginia Community College.

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Delaware

Delaware Stonewall PAC to announce 2022 endorsements at fundraiser

State Sen. Pinkney to deliver keynote speech

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Del. Sen. Marie Pinkney will speak Saturday at the event.

Delaware Stonewall PAC, which advocates for the LGBTQ community in Delaware, will announce its endorsements for the 2022 state primaries and general elections at its 18th annual summer fundraiser in Rehoboth Beach on Saturday. Del. Sen. Marie Pinkney, the state’s first openly lesbian senator, is slated to deliver the event’s keynote speech.

Held each year, the event plays a key role in raising funds for the organization’s advocacy efforts, which mostly comes through financial investment in the campaigns of “candidates that support our issues,” according to Delaware Stonewall PAC Board Secretary Peter Schott.

Endorsements are determined by candidates’ responses to a survey distributed by the organization regarding its primary issues of interest, and are also influenced by a candidate’s political background.

This year, 37 candidates for state elections submitted responses to the survey in pursuit of the organization’s endorsement, said Dwayne Bensing, president of Delaware Stonewall PAC. Although the organization is non-partisan, Bensing noted no Republican candidates sought their endorsement.

When reviewing this year’s survey responses, certain issues facing the local LGBTQ community weighed heavily in the organization’s decision making.

Last year, HB 199, a bill that sought to formally prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or disability in the state constitution, was proposed in the House, but was “never bought to a floor vote,” Bensing explained. A candidate’s views on constitutionally guaranteeing access to abortion was considered greatly, as Bensing noted the organization hopes to see progress soon on the bill.

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe vs. Wade, other key issues to the organization this election season center around bodily autonomy — like an individual’s right to receive an abortion or gender affirming medical care, Bensing explained. LGBTQ inclusivity in statewide school curriculum also figured prominently in decision making, he added.

“We asked explicitly about whether each of those candidates would support” LGBTQ advocacy through these issues, he said.

At the event, the organization will also honor “local and national pioneers in civil and human rights,” according to a July 27 press release from the organization.

The leaders that will be recognized at the event include C. Dixon Osburn, founder of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which helped end the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law; Charlotte King, founder of the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice; and Murray Archibald, co-founder of CAMP Rehoboth, according to the press release.

“We are honoring these people because they are pioneers,” Schott added. “They saw the problem … organized around the problem, and found a lot of success.”

Last year, Sen. Pinkney was honored at the event as one of the state’s first three LGBTQ Caucus members, Bensing said. He added that the event will also play an important role in recruiting new members to the organization: Since the beginning of 2022, Delaware Stonewall PAC has recruited more than 120 new members, and the organization’s leadership hopes the event will help it maintain that momentum.

Tickets to the fundraiser begin at $75, and the organization also welcomes sponsorships. More information can be found at delawarestonewall.org.

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