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Senate may cue up marriage vote soon, but 60 votes not assured

Some Republican leaders doubt there’s sufficient support

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From left, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). (Blade file photos by Michael Key)

Legislation seeking to codify same-sex marriage may be cued up as soon as this week in the U.S. Senate after lawmakers returned from August recess, although reaching the 60-vote threshold to end a filibuster is unassured.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to make the case for the Respect for Marriage Act, which he said was needed in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

“Over the past few months, both sides have engaged in good-faith conversations about how to pass marriage equality into law,” Schumer said. “I truly hope – for the sake of tens of millions of Americans — that there will be at least ten Republicans who will vote with us to pass this important bill soon. Democrats are ready to make it happen — and willing to debate reasonable compromises on the specifics — so I urge my colleagues on the other side to join us.”

The likeliest scenario, as of Wednesday, was for Senate Democrats to start the procedural process Thursday to set up for votes on the Respect for Marriage Act early next week, two Democratic aides familiar with the bill told the Blade.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the only open lesbian in the Senate, has been a proponent of the legislation and would be a likely candidate to go to the floor to seek a vote on the legislation.

Whether or not there are 60 votes in the Senate to end a filibuster is another matter. Supporters of the legislation have been bullish about obtaining 10 Republican votes to aid the united Democratic caucus in cutting off debate to move forward with the bill, but only four Republicans have signaled support in some capacity: Susan Collins (Maine), Rob Portman (Ohio), Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Ron Johnson (Wis).

“As for vote count, still the same,” one Senate Democratic aide told the Blade on Wednesday. “We don’t have 10 firm commitments from Republicans, but we are close and believe that the votes are there without the firm commitments.”

Johnson also has indicated his support would be conditional upon the inclusion of language to accommodate objections to same-sex marriage on religious grounds. Language being drafted by Baldwin and Collins for such an amendment, Democratic aides familiar with the bill told the Blade, would affirm the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but go no further.

A competing amendment on religious exemptions, however, is expected to come from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), according to a report in Politico. His office didn’t immediately respond Wednesday to the Blade’s request to comment on the nature of the amendment or the support obtained for the measure.

Concerns that there aren’t enough votes to advance the Respect for Marriage Act were piqued last week in the aftermath of an article in Politico with the headline: “Same-sex marriage bill teeters on verge of GOP filibuster.” The article points out numerous Republicans who are possible “yes” votes, such as Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Lisa Murkowksi (R-Alaska), have yet to declare outright support for the legislation.

Murkowski, who was an early Republican supporter of same-sex marriage, stands out in the group as among the Republicans who have yet to declare a position on the Respect for Marriage Act, although a spokesperson for the Alaska Republican confirmed to the Blade she remains undecided.

“Sen. Murkowski has long supported marriage equality,” said Hannah Ray, a Murkowksi spokesperson. “She is reviewing the House-passed bill and tracking negotiations in the Senate over possible modifications to the text of the Respect for Marriage Act introduced by Sens. Baldwin and Collins, so at this time she has not announced how she will vote.”

The conclusion of the Politico article that sufficient support remains in question, however, appears largely based on quotes from senior Republicans in the Senate who reportedly cast doubt about whether enough members of their caucus would break away to support the bill. Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) was quoted as saying right now no one knows “the exact answer” on the number of votes; he reportedly added he hasn’t done a formal whip count.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) was reportedly more blunt in his assessment: “I don’t see 10 Republicans,” Cornyn was quoted as saying. “I assume if people were inclined to support it, they would have already declared in support of it.”

Blade readers will remember Cornyn was the member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who pressed now U.S. Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson during her confirmation hearing about the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in favor of same-sex marriage, asking her whether she could understand observers being surprised by the outcome.

Despite Cornyn’s projections, Republicans in the Senate have had a history of keeping their cards close to their vests on measures relating to LGBTQ rights before some ultimately break away to vote in the favor of the legislation. Such has been the case in the past 12 years with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Bolstering the prospects for the Respect for Marriage Act is that the bill would reaffirm existing law as opposed to make changes. The legislation also wouldn’t codify same-sex marriage into the U.S. code, 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.

A final push for the legislation among its supporters was evident in recent days as expectations for a vote increased. The Human Rights Campaign was set on Thursday to deliver to the Pittsburgh office of the undecided Toomney letters urging him to support the Respect for Marriage Act

Within the Republican Party, more than 400 prominent Republicans signed a letter organized by the LGBTQ group Freedom for All Americans and issued on Tuesday urging support for the Respect for Marriage Act. Among the co-signers are former Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman, who’s gay; Mehmet Oz, the Republican Senate nominee in Pennsylvania; and former president George W. Bush’s daughter Barbara Bush.

“As Republicans and conservatives, we believe strong families and lasting relationships strengthen communities, and civil marriage is a fundamental freedom central to individual liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” the letter says. “We stand with the 71 percent of Americans today, including a majority of registered Republicans, who support the freedom to marry for all Americans.”

Baldwin, for her part, said in a statement to the Blade on Wednesday she continues to remain optimistic about reaching the necessary 60 votes on the Respect for Marriage Act and work continues behind the scenes on those efforts.

“I am continuing my work to build the Republican support needed to pass our bipartisan legislation to protect marriage equality and ensure Americans in same-sex and interracial marriages are guaranteed the same rights and freedoms of every other marriage,” Baldwin said. “These loving couples deserve this certainty and the American people overwhelmingly agree.”

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News

Rep. Pocan introduces legislation to create nat’l LGBTQ history museum

Bills seek answer on including site as part of Smithsonian

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Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) has introduced legislation seeking to create an LGBTQ history museum. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) has introduced legislation that would set up the process to create a National Museum of American LGBTQ+ History & Culture, potentially as an official site within the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Pocan, one of nine openly gay members of the U.S. House and co-chair of the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, said in a statement Thursday the measures would are effort to preserve LGBTQ history “as our community faces unprecedented attacks and attempts to erase our history.” The pair of bills is H.R.9070 and H.R.9071.

“It is vital to remember our collective past – particularly when certain states seek to constrain and repeal existing rights by passing bills that harm LGBTQ+ youth and our community at large,” Pocan said. “Let’s tell these stories, and honor the many contributions the LGBTQ+ community has made to this nation with a museum in Washington, D.C.”

The first bill, according to a news statement, would creates an eight-member commission of individuals with expertise in museum planning or LGBTQ+ research and culture “to look into the viability of establishing such a facility in the nation’s Capital.”

Among other things, the commission would be charged with recommending a plan on action for museum, including fundraising for the museum, and submitting to Congress a plan for construction of the museum, the statement says.

The bill would also instruct the commission to address whether the museum should be part of the Smithsonian Institution, based in the nation’s capital and the world’s largest museum and research complex, per the news statement. The full study, the statement says, would have to be completed in 18 months.

If the Smithsonian were to adopt the a museum on LGBTQ history and culture, it would be similar to other museums under its jurisdiction focused on minority populations in the United States, including the National Museum of African American History & Culture and the National Museum of the American Indian.

The second bill, according to a news statement, would be eligible for consideration by Congress after the commission completes its work and issues its recommendations and allow for formal creation of the museum. More than 50 lawmakers, including all nine openly gay members of the U.S. House, co-sponsor the legislation.

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District of Columbia

Judge postpones ruling on whether Casa Ruby should be dissolved

Request by Corado for gag order to stop ‘one sided’ information denied

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A judge denied Ruby Corado’s request for a gag order in the ongoing case. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A D.C. Superior Court judge on Thursday said she was not ready to issue a ruling on whether the LGBTQ community services center Casa Ruby should be dissolved as recommended two and a half weeks earlier by a court-appointed receiver that took control of Casa Ruby’s operations.

Judge Danya A. Dayson stated at a Sept. 29 court status hearing that the Office of the D.C. Attorney General, which filed civil charges against Casa Ruby and its founder and former executive director Ruby Corado in July, needed more time to complete its investigation into Casa Ruby’s operations.

“We think it may be premature to immediately commence proceedings for dissolution while our investigation is still pending,” Cara Spencer, an official with the Office of the Attorney General, told the judge. “We’re still gathering information. We still intend to shortly serve discovery so we can bring it to a resolution promptly,” she said.

The AG’s office filed a civil complaint against Casa Ruby and Corado on July 29 alleging that the LGBTQ group had violated the city’s Nonprofit Corporations Act for the past several years. The complaint says improper actions by Corado, including the unaccounted-for expenditure of funds and a failure by the Casa Ruby Board of Directors to provide oversight led to a financial crisis.

The complaint notes that Casa Ruby employees were not getting paid and over $1 million was owed to landlords in back rent for at least three buildings Casa Ruby used for its offices and to provide emergency housing for homeless LGBTQ youth.

With Corado spending most of the past year in El Salvador, according to Casa Ruby employees, the employees and managers struggling to keep its operations going said they were forced to shut down all operations in late July.

Corado, who attended the Sept. 29 status hearing through a phone hookup, said she had yet to retain a lawyer due to a “shortage of funds.” She told Dayson she expects to finally retain an attorney but said she had not received a copy of the receiver’s report that recommended Casa Ruby be dissolved. One of the attorneys with the AG’s office told Dayson the office sent a copy of the report to four email addresses it had for Corado and Casa Ruby.

At the judge’s request, one of the AG office officials sent another copy of the report to Corado during the hearing to an email address that the judge asked Corado to provide.

Dayson on Aug. 12, at the recommendation of the AG’s office, appointed the Wanda Alston Foundation, a D.C. organization that provides housing for homeless LGBTQ youth, as the Casa Ruby receiver. One day earlier, Dayson approved the AG office’s request that Casa Ruby be placed under receivership.

On Aug. 3, also at the request of the AG’s office, the judge issued an order that all of Casa Ruby’s bank accounts and financial assets, which had been under the sole control of Corado, be frozen. Dayson lifted that freeze after the Alston Foundation assumed control of Casa Ruby under the receivership.

As she had at the Aug. 11 court hearing, Corado stated in the Sept. 29 hearing that Casa Ruby’s financial problems were caused by the D.C. government withholding as much as $600,000 in grant funds for services Casa Ruby had provided.

Officials with the D.C. Department of Human Services, which initially approved the grants, have said some of the grant funds were withdrawn or cancelled because Casa Ruby failed to comply with the terms of the grants. In some cases, the officials said, required financial reports were not filed to substantiate how the funds were spent.

Corado also asked Dayson at the Sept. 29 hearing to order the receiver and officials with the AG’s office stop releasing “one-sided” information that she said was falsely placing her and Casa Ruby in a negative light through reports in the press.

“The story that has been painted is that Casa Ruby left the clients in the cold,” Corado said. “That is not accurate.”

When asked by Dayson what she wanted the court to do, Corado said, among other things, she did not want the receiver to be allowed to disclose information about what happened in the court proceedings that Corado said was being reported by the press inaccurately.

She said highly negative publicity resulting from the release of information from the previous court hearing resulted in her receiving death threats and damage to the engine of her vehicle in an act of vandalism that cost $1,700 to repair.  

Dayson said Corado appeared to be seeking a gag order to prohibit the receiver or the AG’s office from discussing or releasing information that was part of the public record. Saying there were insufficient grounds for such an order, Dayson announced she was denying a request to seal court records or issue a gag order against the receiver.

The judge ruled in favor of a request by the AG office attorney to file an amended complaint for the case, directing them to file the amended complaint by Nov. 28. Court records show that Dayson directed the parties to return to court for scheduling hearings on Oct. 28 and Jan. 6. 

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Mississippi

Art used to spotlight people of color lost to AIDS in the South

National AIDS Memorial, Southern AIDS Coalition created Change the Pattern exhibit

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The National AIDS Memorial and Southern AIDS Coalition have announced a new initiative to raise awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS among communities of color in the South. (Photo courtesy of the National AIDS Memorial)

The National AIDS Memorial has joined forces with the Southern AIDS Coalition to stage a series of art exhibitions and educational forums to honor Black and Brown people in the South who have been lost to HIV/AIDS.

The initiative, titled Change the Pattern, began in Jackson, Miss., on Wednesday with curated quilt exhibitions, displays, educational forums, advocacy, storytelling and quilt-making, according to a press release from the National AIDS Memorial. A $2.4 million grant from the biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, Inc., funded Change the Pattern.

More than 500 hand-stitched quilt panels from the area were featured in what the National AIDS Memorial says is “the largest display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt ever” in Mississippi.

“By creating an empowering message and safe spaces for conversation, we can uplift, inspire and make progress toward ending the HIV epidemic, challenge cultural stigmas and continue the legacy of advocacy that the quilt represents,” said National AIDS Memorial CEO John Cunningham in the release. 

Change the Pattern was announced in honor of Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day during the Southern AIDS Coalition’s annual Saving Ourselves Symposium that took place in August. 

The conference, which was heavily attended by LGBTQ activists from the South, featured 100 quilt panels, and attendees participated in quilt-making workshops to make new quilt panels representing their loved ones.

Interested LGBTQ advocacy organizations in the South were invited to apply for funding to support local quilt-making workshops in their communities so as to ensure that the legacies of Black and Brown people are captured through newly-sewn panels on the quilt through the Memorial’s Call My Name program, according to the National AIDS Memorial press release. 

The application process opened on Sept. 15 with up to 35 eligible organizations receiving as much as $5,000 to support hosting local workshops. 

The first major Change the Pattern Quilt was founded 35 years ago as a visual representation of the need to end stigma and provide equitable resources to communities most impacted by HIV/AIDS, according to Southern AIDS Coalition Executive Director Dafina Ward.

“Change the Pattern is a call to action and change in the South,” said Ward. “Quilt-making has such a deep cultural connection in the Black community and in the South. The sharing and telling of these powerful stories through the quilt, coupled with advocacy and open dialogue, can help end HIV-related stigma and bring the stories of those we’ve lost to light.”

As the Change the Pattern initiative occurs, conversations about how to handle health epidemics within LGBTQ communities of color have become national topics, especially with the prevalence of monkeypox cases amongst Black gay men.

Despite earlier panic about the disease, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in a report released on Wednesday said that individuals who were vaccinated against the disease were less likely to be affected over the summer compared to those who weren’t. 

The effectiveness and duration of immunity after a single dose, however, is not known, and few individuals in the current outbreak have completed the recommended two-dose series, according to the report. 

The most recent CDC data reports that 25,509 monkeypox cases have thus far been confirmed in the U.S. Only one death has been reported.

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