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LGBTQ ally, Vermont’s U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy won’t seek re-election

“What propelled me was a belief I understood the needs and values of Vermont and thought it was time for a new generation to address them”

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Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D-VT) (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

MONTPELIER, Vt. — U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the longest-serving senator still in office, announced his retirement Monday. 

Leahy, who has served eight terms in the Senate, said he and his wife Marcelle concluded that it was time for the 81-year-old to “pass the torch to the next Vermonter who will carry on this work for our great state.”

“I will forever carry with me the enduring bond with my fellow Vermonters, whose common sense and goodness are what I strive to match as their representative,” he said. “Thank you for being the inspiration and the motivation for all the good that has come from my work in the Senate. Rest assured our state and our nation will remain resilient and the next generation will ensure our democracy remains whole and thriving.”

Leahy​​, the current Senate president pro tempore, has long been an LGBTQ+ ally. 

In 2013, Leahy pushed to add same-sex couples to an immigration reform bill. The amendment would have enabled gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States. 

“For immigration reform to be truly comprehensive, it must include protections for all families,” he said at the time. “We must end the discrimination that gay and lesbian families face in our immigration law.”

He ended up withholding the pro-LGBTQ+ amendment “with a heavy heart” after he couldn’t garner support for the measure but gave an extended speech on why he believes discrimination against gay couples is wrong. 

“In the immigration context, if you’re an American and fall in love will someone of the same sex from a different country and you get married legally, your spouse will not be treated like any other immigrant spouse would be by your federal government,” Leahy said. “My amendments would change that. I don’t want to be the senator who asks Americans to choose between the love of their life and the love of their country.”

In his speech announcing he would not run for re-election, Leahy touted his work on legislation, such as the Innocence Protection Act, the Justice for All Act and Freedom of Information Reform Act.

He also mentioned his work on the Violence Against Women Act. “In subsequent reauthorizations, we added protections for the LGBTQ community, Native American women and the sexual trafficking of children,” he said. 

Leahy made the announcement at the Vermont State House, where he announced his first run for Senate in 1974. 

“This room is special to both Marcelle and me, and not just because as a kid I used to ride my tricycle down these halls,” he said. “Having grown up right across the street, Marcelle and I gathered here with our parents, our children Kevin, Alicia and Mark, and my sister Mary and announced my candidacy for the United States Senate. At the time, I was a 33-year-old, four-term Chittenden County state’s attorney, launching a campaign knowing that Vermont had never sent a Democrat to the United States Senate.”

“What propelled me was a belief that I understood the needs and values of Vermont and thought it was time for a new generation to address them,” he said. 

Leahy ended his address by saying, “Representing you in Washington has been the greatest honor. I am humbled, and always will be, by your support, and I am confident in what the future holds.”

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Senate Democrats push for expanded access to testosterone

Senators Ed Markey & Elizabeth Warren urging the Biden administration to expand access to testosterone for gender affirming hormone therapy

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Photo Credit: National Library of Medicine/NIH-HHS USA.gov

WASHINGTON – Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) has issued a letter cosigned by fellow Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren urging the Biden administration to expand access to testosterone for gender affirming hormone therapy

The letter was sent on Thursday to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Anne Milgram. 

A press release from Sen. Markey’s office announcing the move notes that testosterone, a masculinizing hormone therapy, causes “physical changes such as suppressed menstruation, decreased estrogen production, deepened voices, and increased facial hair growth.” 

As such, the sex hormone is considered crucial for transgender men and transmasculine nonbinary people, but there are substantial barriers to access because the treatment was listed as a Schedule III controlled substance in 1990 over concerns with its non-medical use as anabolic steroids. 

“Testosterone’s Schedule III status adds barriers to medically necessary, gender-affirming care while leaving transgender people vulnerable to harassment, discrimination, and surveillance,” the Senators wrote in their letter. “Rescheduling or descheduling testosterone would further the goals and policies already announced by the White House and HHS.” 

The lawmakers noted the Biden administration’s work strengthening Section 1557 non-discrimination rulemaking and collaboration with states on broadening access to gender-affirming healthcare. 

Their letter explains how the classification of testosterone makes it difficult for many patients to obtain: “Prescriptions for Schedule III and Schedule IV substances cannot be filled or refilled six months after the prescription was issued, or be refilled more than five times. On top of these requirements, states and private health insurers may impose further restrictions, such as 30-day limitations on controlled substances or limitations on mail delivery of prescriptions.”

Additionally, the Senators noted rescheduling or descheduling testosterone would exempt the drug from requirements that patients see their providers in-person before it is prescribed – requirements that might be reinstated if the pandemic-era rules broadening access to telemedicine are lifted. 

Because the prescription of controlled substances is documented and tracked via states’ Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, transgender people have expressed concerns that they might be outed “to their health care providers, pharmacists, family members, and other people and agencies with access to these lists,” Markey and Warren wrote. 

Finally, they argued, the rules governing access to testosterone may increase instances of its illicit use by transgender people – raising health and safety concerns with the lack of medical supervision or monitoring and unregulated medicines and components. 

The lawmakers requested written answers and “a staff level briefing” to questions in their letter from the Justice Department and HHS by October 7. These include requests for details about the agencies’ steps to begin reconsidering the Schedule III classification of testosterone and information about meetings they’ve had with representatives of the transgender community.

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U.S. Senate Majority Leader promises same-sex marriage bill vote

Supporters have expressed optimism 10 Republican votes are present. Four Republicans have signaled they would support the bill

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Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) (Screenshot/YouTube)

WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) signaled on Wednesday on vote on legislation to codify same-sex marriage would happen “in the coming weeks” as supporters express increasing confidence will have sufficient bipartisan support to pass.

Schumer made the comments under questioning from a reporter on the Respect for Marriage Act and whether 10 Republicans are present to end a filibuster on the measure.

“We all want to pass this quickly,” Schumer said. “Our two leading members on this issue, Sen. [Tammy] Baldwin and [Kyrtsten] Sinema, are working with Republicans to see if there are enough votes to pass the bill. But let me be clear, a vote will happen. A vote on marriage equality will happen on the Senate floor in the coming weeks and I hope there will be 10 Republicans to support it. Yes.”

The measure came up during a meeting for Senate Democrats earlier in the day, said Schumer, who added it was “a very good conversation” about same-sex marriage.

Schumer made a point to say the vote was necessary after the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, which led many to believe same-sex marriage would be next on the chopping block.

“Let’s remember why a vote on the Respect for Marriage is necessary,” Schumer said. “Millions upon millions of American women had their right taken away by the extremist MAGA Supreme Court in the Dobbs decision. And in a concurring opinion, Justice Thomas opened the door to the Supreme Court going even further. The MAGA Republicans are taking over the Republican Party and they’ve made it abundantly clear they’re not satisfied with repealing Roe. So when some Republicans say, ‘Oh, vote’s unnecessary, it won’t happen,’ – they said the same thing about Roe and here’s where we are.”

Although Democratic insiders close to Senate leaders had said they were considering including the marriage bill as an amendment to a budget stopgap known as a continuing resolution, Schumer hinted he doesn’t think that would be the way to go.

“We would prefer to do it as a separate bill,” Schumer said. “We hope there are 10 Republicans to help us with that.”

The Respect of Marriage Act wouldn’t codify same-sex marriage into law per se, but would lift from the books the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act and require states to recognize same-sex marriage performed elsewhere. The U.S. House approved the measure in July.

Supporters have expressed optimism 10 Republican votes are present. 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.

Baldwin, the first openly lesbian elected to the Senate, has been championing the legislation and told Axios’ Andrew Solender she’s confident 10 Republicans votes will be there.

“I think the momentum is going in the right direction,” Baldwin was quoted as saying.

Asked about specific vote timing, Baldwin reportedly said, “I would hope for next week.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to weigh in on Wednesday when asked whether the marriage legislation should be included in the continuing resolution, although she said President Biden wants Congress to act “swiftly” on the measure.

“I know there’s a legislative pathway that’s being discussed currently in Congress,” Jean-Pierre said. “We’ll let leadership decide how to move forward with that. The President is proud is a champion of a right for people to marry. They can choose who they love, and he believes it is non-negotiable, and the Senate should act swiftly to get this to the President’s desk.”

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Democrats consider add of same-sex marriage to spending bill

Whether or not the marriage bill is included in the continuing resolution, the measure would still require 60 votes

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

WASHINGTON – 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.

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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