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U.S. House Democrats reintroduce ‘lavender scare’ firings review bill

“It is long past time to recognize the LGBTQI members of the State Department who were treated unfairly during the ‘lavender scare'”



U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) speaks at an LGBTQ Victory Fund event (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Three Democratic lawmakers on Thursday introduced a bill that seeks to rectify the harm caused to LGBTQ federal government employees who were fired during the so-called “lavender scare.”

“Today, as the United States confronts renewed threats to LGBTQI+ rights at home and abroad, we need to remember the far-reaching consequences of institutionalized homophobia,” said U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) in the statement that announced he and U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Dina Titus (D-Nev.) introduced the Lavender Offense Victim Exoneration (LOVE) Act in the U.S. House of Representatives. “The so-called ‘lavender scare’ handed power to blackmailers and homophobes, stripped thousands of hard-working Americans of their jobs, and weakened our national security.” 

The ‘lavender scare’, as it was called, saw the firing of thousands of gay employees throughout the federal government — particularly the State Department — from the 1940s to the 1960s as anti-communist sentiment raised suspicion toward certain minority groups in multiple spheres of American society.

The LOVE Act has been introduced before previous Congresses, including in both 2019 and 2020. While the bill in 2020 was also authored by Castro and Cicilline, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced the 2019 measure.

“It is long past time for the U.S. government to recognize the stories of the LGBTQI members of the State Department who were treated unfairly during the ‘lavender scare,’ and to offer them and their families a measure of justice,” Menendez said in a statement after introducing the 2019 bill.

In addressing what its sponsors identified as harm done to the LGBTQ community as a result of the ‘lavender scare,’ the newest LOVE Act proposes measures to be implemented within the State Department similar to those in previous forms of the bill.

Among its provisions, the bill would mandate the investigation of cases of those in the State Department targeted by the ‘lavender scare’ decades ago. In addition, the legislation would require the creation of an Advancement Board within the State Department to aid LGBTQ diplomats and their spouses both within the department as well as in their interactions with foreign countries.

On the congressional front, the bill would call for Congress to issue a formal apology for the role it played in the propagation of the ‘lavender scare.’

Subsequent bans on employment under the federal government for members of the LGBTQ community have made resurgences in the decades since the ‘lavender scare.’ 

The Obama administration in 2016 ended a ban on transgender Americans serving in the military that had been in place since the 1960s. The Trump administration reinstated the policy, but President Biden again reversed the ban within days of his inauguration.

“And what I’m doing is enabling all qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform, and essentially restoring the situation as it existed before, with transgender personnel, if qualified in every other way, can serve their government in the United States military,” Biden said.

Castro framed the proposed legislation as an important step toward both ensuring both reparation for the events of the ‘lavender scare’ as well as preventing such discrimination from occurring in the future.

“As we celebrate Pride Month, I’m proud to introduce the LOVE Act, which is an important step forward to address the harms of the ‘lavender scare’ and protect today’s State Department employees from discrimination,” Castro said.

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U.S. Senate vote sets up passage of same-sex marriage act

Coordinated campaign by anti-LGBTQ groups fails to weaken support among GOP Senators as the bill sees clear path to near-certain passage



U.S. Capitol Building (Photo Credit: Rev. Brandan Robertson)

WASHINGTON – Passage of the Respect for Marriage Act became all but certain with the U.S. Senate’s procedural 61-35 vote on Monday night to forego additional debate in the chamber over the landmark legislation.

From here, the bill will return to the U.S. House of Representatives, which will consider — and is expected to approve — an amendment that was added by a bipartisan group of Senators led by Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). Then, it will reach President Joe Biden’s desk.

The president has repeatedly urged lawmakers to pass the bill so he can sign it into law. His administration, along with Congressional Democratic leadership, has made the Respect for Marriage Act a top legislative priority in the weeks before the new Congress is seated in January.

Today’s move by the Senate came on the heels of a coordinated campaign by conservative and anti-LGBTQ advocacy groups that wield considerable influence on Capitol Hill and marshaled their efforts to peel off support from Republican senators in the days leading up to Monday’s vote.

Republican Sens. Todd Young (Ind.) and Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), who were among the 12 Senate Republicans who supported advancing the legislation in a procedural vote taken before Thanksgiving, cast the final two votes on Monday allowing the measure to clear the 60-vote majority threshold to pass. Axios reports the two lawmakers faced particular pressure from conservative activists who sought to erode their support for the legislation.

The Respect for Marriage Act will repeal the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act, adding legal protections for same-sex couples, many of whom would otherwise face devastating consequences if the U.S. Supreme Court reverses or substantially weakens the constitutional right to marriage equality.

Notwithstanding criticism from some progressives who feel the bill is too conservative in scope, the Respect for Marriage Act — along with the bipartisan amendment that was introduced in the Senate to enshrine protections for religious liberty — is supported by major LGBTQ organizations including the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Transgender Equality, GLSEN and PFLAG National, among others.

The bill’s aim, narrowly tailored, was to gird against the possibility that the high court would revisit its precedential decisions in United States v. Windsor (2013) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015).

Justice Clarence Thomas signaled his intention to do so with his concurring opinion earlier this year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — a case that revoked Americans’ constitutional right to abortion, overturning the Court’s historic rulings in Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992).

Over the summer, the House passed the Respect for Marriage Act with an overwhelming majority, including votes from 47 Republican members. Dozens of religious denominations and groups that represent a broad spectrum of beliefs have endorsed the legislation, including the Mormon church, which took pains to reaffirm its position that same-sex relationships are sinful. Scholars representing a similarly diverse range of opinions on germane legal questions have also publicly backed the bill.

Still, the opposition remained steadfast.

“Religious Americans will be subject to potentially ruinous litigation, while the tax-exempt status of certain charitable organizations, educational institutions, and non-profits will be threatened,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in a statement opposing the legislation as written and proposing an additional amendment to the bill.

Organizations like the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, echoed Lee’s concerns about the Respect for Marriage Act vis-à-vis protections for religious liberty. Others, like the Liberty Counsel, designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group, peddled outrageous arguments including the lie that the Respect for Marriage Act would normalize or facilitate child sexual exploitation and abuse.

Even in the aftermath of the deadly shooting on Nov. 19 at a Colorado Springs, Colo., LGBTQ nightclub, these attacks from conservative groups continued apace and even increased as the Senate’s vote on Monday drew nearer.

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Senate to revisit Respect for Marriage Act after Thanksgiving

President Joe Biden has urged Congress to expeditiously send the Respect for Marriage Act to his desk where it will become law



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

Just before midnight on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that consideration of the Respect for Marriage Act and an associated amendment will resume on Nov. 28, when the chamber reconvenes following the Thanksgiving break.

The historic legislation would preserve the more than 1,100 rights and benefits enjoyed by married same-sex couples regardless of whether the constitutional right to marriage equality survives the U.S. Supreme Court’s supermajority.

Support for the Respect for Marriage Act is bipartisan, with a dozen Republican Senators joining the entire Democratic caucus in a cloture vote yesterday to advance the bill to a full floor vote. Likewise, this summer, the House passed its version of the Respect for Marriage Act with unanimous support from Democratic members and 47 of their Republican colleagues.

President Joe Biden has urged Congress to expeditiously send the Respect for Marriage Act to his desk where it will become law.

Senator Tammy Baldwin speaking on Senate floor before the vote.
(Screen shot/CSPAN)

Out Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) was widely credited with building momentum for the legislation and forging consensus among members of the upper chamber. On Thursday, she spoke in personal terms about the bill in an address to her colleagues from the Senate floor.

Writing a concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas “said the rationale used to overturn Roe v. Wade should be used to overturn cases establishing rights to contraception, same-sex sexual relations, and same-sex marriage,” Baldwin said.

With the Respect for Marriage Act, she said, “Congress is acting with the full throated endorsement of the American people” because the Supreme Court “should not be in the position to undermine the stability of families with the stroke of a pen.”

Also addressing their colleagues today with messages of support for the bill were Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who have all been vocal champions of the Respect for Marriage Act. These lawmakers worked to ensure concerns among some in the Republican caucus were assuaged with an amendment that preserves “religious liberties” and upholds “conscience protections.”

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Biden & LGBTQ orgs celebrate 12 GOP votes for Marriage Act

RFMA will require states to recognize same-sex marriages performed where they are legal preserving more than 1,100 federal rights & benefits



President Joe Biden signs an executive order protecting members of the LGBTQIA+ community, for a Pride Month reception on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

WASHINGTON — The Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA) is expected to be called for a full Senate vote as early as Thursday after clearing an initial cloture vote Wednesday with 50 Democratic and 12 Republican votes.

The bill is among the highest priority items for Congress to address before the new members are seated in January, and it marks a significant nexus of bipartisan agreement in a sharply divided legislature.

President Joe Biden, members of Congress, LGBTQ, civil rights, and legal advocacy organizations celebrated Wednesday’s vote to advance the legislation, which aims to maximize protections for same-sex couples while abiding the legal framework necessary to withstand potential legal challenges.

The RFMA will require states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in places where they are legal, preserving the more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits that are conferred by marriage.  

Pledging to “promptly sign it into law,” Biden lauded the lawmakers who voted on Wednesday to support the bill. “The Respect for Marriage Act will ensure that LGBTQI+ couples and interracial couples are respected and protected equally under federal law,” the president said in a statement, “and provide more certainty to these families since the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs.”

The high court’s ruling earlier this year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is credited as the impetus behind the RFMA, particularly since Justice Clarence Thomas published a concurring opinion in that case vowing to revisit precedents governing marriage equality, among other matters.

California Sen. Alex Padilla (D), a cosponsor of the legislation, said: “Over the last two months, Senate Democrats, led by Senator Baldwin, have made bipartisan strides towards an agreement on this legislation, and I thank our colleagues who joined us in voting to protect this fundamental right.”

Kelley Robinson, incoming president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a press release, “Today’s strong bipartisan vote of 62-37 for cloture is an incredible victory that cannot be taken lightly—this vote was the bill’s biggest procedural roadblock, and now we steer our focus forward to the Senate’s final vote on this historic legislation.”

GLAAD President and CEO Kate Ellis said in a press release, “As extremist politicians push anti-LGBTQ playbooks on the state level and right-wing U.S. Supreme Court justices overturn other legal precedent, the bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act is an opportunity for our leaders to come together to send a message of equal treatment for everyone.”

“Equality California applauds the vote today to protect federal marriage equality across the country — one that cannot be easily overturned, regardless of political control,” the group’s Executive Director Tony Hoang said in a press release.

“Today 62 U.S. Senators voted for cloture on the Respect for Marriage Act, H.R. 8404, a filibuster-proof majority of the U.S. Senate agreeing to move the RMA forward to the Senate floor. The importance of this vote cannot be overstated – it is in some part proactive defensive legislation of the conservative majority of the Supreme Court’s clear threats against marriage for same-sex couples. We support the RMA—a bipartisan compromise – because it would protect millions of same-sex and interracial couples by ensuring their marriages be respected by federal and state governments. It would remove the discriminatory federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) off the books and replace disrespect with respect.  The RMA and our families enjoy strong interfaith support, and it is worth noting that this bill would not change existing constitutional religious freedoms,” said Kierra Johnson, Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund.

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Respect for Marriage Act written to withstand legal challenge

“This bill is careful with how to thread the needle protecting state and federal marriages without addressing a host of other issues”



Senator Alex Padilla and Vice President Kamala Harris
Sen. Alex Padilla and Vice President Kamala Harris. (Photo credit: Office of Sen. Padilla)

WASHINGTON – The Senate’s version of the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA) was written to “provide the strongest protections possible while being very thoughtful to ensure the best legal defense” in the face of a possible litigated challenge, Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Ca.) said.

“Might there be legal challenges to it? I hope not. But in the case that there are, I believe it will be upheld,” Padilla told the Washington Blade by phone on Wednesday, ahead of the Senate’s expected procedural vote on the legislation.

It is the prerogative of any senator to propose additional amendments to the RFMA, as with any legislation, but the appetite among the bipartisan coalition of lawmakers backing the bill is for none to be added at this stage, Padilla said.

The California senator credited Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wi), the Democratic lead on negotiation over the bill, for securing “the Republican support necessary to overcome the filibuster.”

“I’m grateful that my Republican colleagues were willing to see the light and act accordingly here,” Padilla said.

As written, the RFMA “makes clear that federal government will not discriminate on marriage on the basis of sex or race [while requiring that] states must acknowledge marriages happening in other states,” said Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), America’s largest LGBTQ organization.

The legislation “is really important as insurance for what’s happening next,” she said, during a media briefing jointly hosted by HRC and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD). “We don’t know what lays in front of us,” Oakley said.

Writing a concurring opinion earlier this year in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas signaled his interest in revisiting the High Court’s rulings establishing constitutional protections for same-sex marriage.

“Part of the urgency” to pass the RFMA during this legislative session “has been the fallout from the Dobbs decision at the Supreme Court, where extremists undid 50 years of Roe v Wade protections and jeopardized other rights,” Padilla said.

“With a target on [same-sex] marriage, we appreciate that Congress is stepping up to do something,” GLAD’s Senior Director of Civil Rights and Legal Strategies Mary Bonauto said during the media briefing this morning.

“This bill is careful with how to thread the needle,” she said, “protecting state and federal marriages without addressing a host of other issues.”

“There are limitations to the bill,” Oakley conceded. “But what it is doing is really important – symbolically, legally, and practically,” she said, noting that there are more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits conferred through marriage that will be protected for same-sex couples through passage of the RFMA.

“Not to get ahead of ourselves,” Padilla said, but the RFMA will hopefully pave the way toward eventual passage of the Equality Act, which would expand civil rights protections to prevent discrimination against LGBTQ Americans in employment, housing, credit, jury service, and federally funded programs.

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House GOP Conference selects Kevin McCarthy for Speakership

Rep. Biggs, a former chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, had launched a late challenge to McCarthy on Monday



House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaking at a campaign event in Pennsylvania in October, 2022 (Screenshot/YouTube

WASHINGTON – In a closed-door conference meeting on Tuesday House Republicans voted 188 to 31 to select House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as their choice to be the next Speaker of the House. McCarthy easily beat Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) in the secret ballot.

Biggs, a former chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, had launched a late challenge to McCarthy on Monday night, announcing on far-right leaning American conservative media outlet Newsmax that he would be an alternative in today’s House GOP caucus election.

“We have a new paradigm here, and I think the country wants a different direction from the House of Representatives,” Biggs told Newsmax. 

Biggs also appeared on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast Tuesday telling Bannon that there are a “significant number of hard no’s” for McCarthy in the House GOP.

The Hill reported that Tuesday’s vote comes as the final breakdown of House control remains unknown, with 14 House races undecided and election projections putting Republicans just one vote shy of securing the majority. The exact size of the slimmer-than-expected majority will have major implications for the rest of McCarthy’s path to the gavel.

The secret-ballot House Republican Conference vote is just the first step for McCarthy to ascend to the Speakership. He must win a majority in a public vote on the House floor — at least 218 votes, assuming a fully sworn-in House — on the first day of the next Congress on Jan. 3.

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Senate Majority Leader schedules vote on Respect for Marriage Act

Senator Schumer is expected to bring the Respect for Marriage Act to the Senate floor for a vote on Wednesday



Sen. Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-Ny.), Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wi.), and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – This week, the U.S. Senate is expected to pass the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA), which would codify some of the protections for same-sex and interracial couples that were established by the U.S. Supreme Court, but could be weakened or overturned by the High Court’s conservative supermajority.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Ny.) just filed for cloture on the legislation, an aide to Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wi) told the Washington Blade. The “first vote will be on Wednesday,” he said in an email.

Baldwin is widely credited with driving momentum behind the bill. She, along with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Me.), Rob Portman (R-Oh.), Thom Tillis (R-Nc.), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), released a statement on Monday urging Senate leadership to put the RFMA on the floor for a vote, explaining they had added protections for “religious liberties.”

CNN reported multiple sources said the coalition of Senators is confident they have the votes necessary for the bill to pass.

This summer, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that President Biden is ready to sign the bill into law. “He is a proud champion of the right for people to marry whom they love and is grateful to see bipartisan support for that right,” she said.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), America’s largest LGBTQ organization, celebrated Schumer’s announcement earlier today that the upper chamber will “vote on the Respect for Marriage Act in the coming weeks so that no American is discriminated against because of whom they love.”

The legislation, HRC said in the press release, will “codify federal marriage equality by guaranteeing the federal rights, benefits and obligations of marriages in the federal code; repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA); and affirm that public acts, records and proceedings should be recognized by all states.”

The impetus behind the Respect for Marriage Act came with the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned the constitutional right to abortion in America.

Justice Clarence Thomas authored a concurring opinion in which he pledged to revisit precedents governing same-sex marriage and other matters that were decided on the basis of the right to privacy.

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