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House gives final approval to Respect for Marriage Act

Bill passed with bipartisan support

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

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday took a final vote on the Respect for Marriage Act, sending the landmark legislation to President Joe Biden’s desk where it will be signed into law with 258 votes in favor, 169 opposed, and one member voting “present.”

Members in the lower chamber had already passed the Respect for Marriage Act this summer, 267-167, with 47 Republican “yes” votes. The matter before the House today was whether to approve an amendment that was added by the U.S. Senate to enshrine protections for religious liberties.

The Senate cleared the Respect for Marriage Act on Nov. 29, just barely clearing the 60-vote threshold to avert a filibuster with 61 votes in favor of passing the legislation.

Once signed into law, the bill will protect same-sex couples in the U.S. from many of the most harmful consequences that would result if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns or substantially weakens constitutional protections for same-sex marriage.

After voting today, U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) told the Washington Blade outside the Speaker’s Lobby in the U.S. Capitol that passage of this bill is “really a watershed moment,” as it marks “the first time we’ve adopted marriage equality legislatively in this country.”

When New Hampshire’s legislature passed same-sex marriage in 2009, “at the time, we needed to make some clarifications in the text of the legislation to protect religious freedom to bring along the majority that we needed to pass the bill,” said Pappas, who is the state’s first openly gay member of Congress.  

“This is a similar situation, here, to get to 60 in the Senate,” for a filibuster proof majority, and “to get a big bipartisan vote in the House,” Pappas said, adding that “in a logical world” the amendment might earn a few more GOP votes this time around.  

“Congress has restored a measure of security to millions of marriages and families,” President Biden said in a statement following the vote. “They have also provided hope and dignity to millions of young people across this country who can grow up knowing that their government will recognize and respect the families they build.”

Asked what to expect from the next Congress in terms of legislative protections for LGBTQ rights, Pappas said it will be important to continue conversations about the Equality Act to bring more Republican Members on board.

Additionally, he said, “I’m working on legislation that deals with the legacy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and making sure that our veterans get access to the care and benefits that they deserve.” Thousands of service members were “discharged wrongfully from the military just because of who they were, and while the administration has taken some positive steps, we need to submit legislation to make sure they get the help they need,” Pappas said.

The Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus released a statement celebrating the House’s vote on Thursday.

“The Respect for Marriage Act is a bipartisan triumph and a testament that love will always win in the end,” said U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who chairs the caucus.

“After the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision and Justice Thomas’ alarming concurring opinion, it became imperative that Congress do everything we constitutionally could do to ensure that marriages across this country continue to be protected,” he said. “Today, Congress did what needed to be done.”

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) also released a statement.

“We are thrilled that the Respect for Marriage Act passed both the Senate and the House with robust bipartisan support. This commonsense legislation provides certainty to millions of loving couples in same-sex and interracial marriages, who will continue to enjoy the freedoms, rights, and responsibilities afforded to all other marriages,” it read. “At the same time, our legislation fully respects and protects religious liberty and diverse beliefs about marriage. This is an important and historic step forward in ensuring dignity and respect for all Americans.”

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Congress

Justice Department eyes criminal probe of Santos’ campaign finances

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) office has not commented

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U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland (Screen shot/CSPAN)

The Justice Department has asked the Federal Election Commission to hold off on law enforcement activity over Republican U.S. Rep. George Santos (N.Y.) as federal prosecutors conduct their own criminal probe into the congressman’s campaign finances.

The news, first reported Friday by the Washington Post, was confirmed Saturday by the Washington Blade via a Justice Department source familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak with the press.

The attorney who filed the FEC complaint against Santos previously told the Blade that the agency would yield to the Justice Department if prosecutors initiate a criminal probe — indicating that in Washington the matter would be overseen by the Department’s Public Integrity Section. 

The Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James are also looking into Santos’ financial conduct, while the congressman has simultaneously been enmeshed in controversies over his compulsive lying, having fabricated virtually every part of his life and identity. 

As of this publication, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) office has not responded to a request seeking comment. McCarthy, along with the rest of Republican leadership in the chamber, have addressed the controversies only minimally, telling reporters they have no plans to ask Santos to step down until or unless criminal proceedings against him are underway.

Santos voted for McCarthy’s bid for speakership in each of the 15 ballots that were required to unite the House GOP conference behind him due to the objections of a couple dozen ultra-conservative members who were able to delay the vote and extract painful concessions because of the party’s narrow control of the House majority.

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Congress

Gallego announces run for Sinema’s Senate seat

Sets up potential three-way race if incumbent seeks reelection

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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Democratic U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona announced plans to run for the Senate in 2024, setting up a possible three-way race if newly declared independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema decides to seek reelection for her seat representing the Grand Canyon State next year.

Gallego disclosed his forthcoming senatorial bid on Monday, sharing a video on Twitter in which the congressman accused Sinema of breaking her promises to Arizonans in favor of advancing the interests of multinational pharmaceutical companies and financial institutions.

A spokesperson for Sinema’s office declined to comment. On Friday, Sinema told Arizona Radio Station KTAR: “I’m not really thinking or talking about the election right now, although others are,” adding, I’m staying focused on the work.”

If elected, Gallego, whose announcement video was recorded in English and Spanish, would become Arizona’s first Latino senator.

Sinema became the first bisexual member and, after Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the second LGBTQ woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate in 2012 and 2018, respectively.

Last year, she was widely credited for her role in the Senate’s passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, hailed as the most significant pro-LGBTQ legislative achievement since the 2010 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

However, since her election to the Senate, Sinema has often earned the ire of many of her Democratic colleagues for stymying progressive legislation by refusing to abandon the filibuster and tacking to the right on fiscal issues.

The Arizona Democratic Party executive board voted to censure Sinema last January for voting with Republicans to preserve the filibuster at the expense of a voting rights bill.

On Dec. 9, Sinema announced her decision to switch her party affiliation from Democrat to independent, pledging not to caucus with Republicans and promising that “Nothing will change about my values or my behavior.”

Sinema has also come under fire during her tenure in the Senate for taking positions seen as favorable to the drug industry and Wall Street, seemingly in exchange for financial backing from those and other affiliated interests.

For instance, in 2021 The Guardian reported that “In the current Congress, Big Pharma appears to have zeroed in on Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat from Arizona, as one of their lead obstructionists to help kill or gut the Democrats’ drug pricing plan. In the 2020 election cycle, pharmaceutical political action committees suddenly funneled more money to her than they did the whole six years she served in the US House.”

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Congress

George Santos: Same-sex couples and parents undermine families

Santos’s comments came during an interview in 2020

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U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) (Public domain photo)

Two years ago, embattled gay Republican U.S. Rep. George Santos (N.Y.) told the host of a conservative YouTube show that same-sex couples and parents are harmful to children and undermine the family.

Children who are raised by single parents or gay and lesbian couples tend to grow up “troubled,” Santos said during the hour-long interview on “Indivisible with John Stubbins.” Clips from the conversation were excerpted and shared Thursday on Twitter by Patriot Takes.

“The family unit has been under attack for decades in different ways,” Santos told Stubbins. “The flavor of the decade is same-sex couples. They’re teaching in schools that kids don’t need a mommy and a daddy, you can can have two mommies and two daddies. That’s an attack on the family unit.”

“I think that’s a little much for kids,” the congressman added.

According to the show’s YouTube page, “Indivisible with John Stubbins” “endorses” My Pillow founder and far-right conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell and has a modest 3,690 subscribers. The video featuring Santos’ interview earned six likes and no comments.

Also on Thursday, Reuters reported claims by former acquaintances that Santos was a drag performer in his native Brazil 15 years ago. Despite the online circulation of photos appearing to show the congressman dressed in drag, Santos tweeted that the reports were untrue.

The matter earned significant media attention given Santos’ far-right positions on LGBTQ issues, consistent with comments from his interview on “Indivisible,” as well as his allyship with the most extreme anti-LGBTQ members of the House Republican Caucus.

Conservative Republicans, including these lawmakers, have increasingly attacked drag events and performances, accusing hosts and participants of harming children or facilitating the sexual abuse or exploitation of minors.

Meanwhile, Santos has been buffeted by a host of other scandals, beginning with reporting last month that revealed he fabricated practically everything about his life and identity. Santos also faces investigations by multiple law enforcement agencies over allegations of financial malfeasance and violations of campaign finance laws.

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