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Senate insiders: Same-sex marriage vote may have a positive outcome

Senate Majority Leader Schumer asked about the Respect for Marriage Act said “yes” to a question on whether the bill remains a priority

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Sen. Tammy Baldwin is taking a lead role in finding votes for the Respect for Marriage Act. (Blade file photo)

WASHINGTON – 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 Thompson (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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Monkeypox

Right-wing media exploit monkeypox- retread anti-vax misinformation

These anti-vax talking points are intended to stigmatize LGBTQ people by framing promiscuity as the primary driver of the disease

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Graphic by Andrea Austria for Media Matters

By Mia Gingerich | WASHINGTON – As monkeypox presents an ever-increasing threat to Americans, predominantly gay and bisexual men, conservative media figures are exploiting the global health emergency to stoke fears of the COVID-19 vaccine and related health measures and to attack queer men. 

These anti-vax talking points are often invoked alongside AIDS-era rhetoric intended to stigmatize LGBTQ people by framing promiscuity as the primary driver of the disease and gay and bisexual men as culprits in — rather than victims of — the growing outbreak. This stigmatization has already reportedly resulted in violence against gay men.

During the last week of July, the U.S. reported both the fastest rise in and highest number of monkeypox cases worldwide, leading the Biden administration to declare a public health emergency on August 4. The virus, which is endemic in certain African countries, is usually rare in Europe and the U.S. However, the virus recently found its way to men who have sex with men (MSM), where it has proliferated primarily through sexual contact. The gay community has emphasized the need to warn about the risk the virus poses to MSM while not feeding into anti-gay rhetoric that depicts gay sexuality as immoral. 

Despite this plea from those most affected by the ongoing health crisis, right-wing media quickly responded to the spread of monkeypox with homophobia – recalling the vilification that gay men experienced during the AIDS epidemic. In addition to being impacted by the latest right-wing media smear campaign risking targeted violence against LGBTQ people, queer men are also less likely to seek medical care for monkeypox in countries where their sexuality is stigmatized.

Conservative media figures invoke COVID-19 conspiracy theories and criticism of health measures in coverage of monkeypox

From early on in their coverage of the monkeypox outbreak, right-wing media figures used the story to renew efforts to sow vaccine hesitancy and undermine COVID-19 health measures. Some far-right figures have even spread conspiracy theories that falsely assert the COVID-19 vaccine is directly responsible for the monkeypox outbreak. 

On May 24, The Daily Wire’s Candace Owens said on her show that “the first person who lines up to get a monkeypox vaccine, I’m going to laugh in your face.” Owens then suggested the World Health Organization, Bill Gates, and Dr. Anthony Fauci were involved in the spread of both diseases as part of “attempts at authoritarianism” and “globalism.” This claim coincides with the recent conservative conspiracy theory claiming the U.S. was ceding power to the WHO.

From the May 24, 2022, edition of Daily Wire’s Candace

Fox News’ Sean Hannity brought anti-vax conspiracy theorist Dr. George Fareed onto the August 8 edition of his radio show, where Fareed falsely claimed “the mass vaccination with these gene therapies, COVID vaccines, have the ability to weaken the immune system and make people more vulnerable to viral infection,” suggesting the vaccine could precipitate the spread of monkeypox. 

Far-right blog American Greatness posted an article on August 3 promoting the work of Shmuel Shapira, an Israeli scientist pushing similar claims as Fareed. The article claimed “Twitter censored Shapira” after the platform flagged a tweet of his as misinformation. Shapira’s tweet read, “It is well established the mRNA vaccines affect the natural immune system. A monkey pox outbreak following massive covid vaccination: Is not a coincidence.”

Right-wing media figures have also taken advantage of the recent health crisis to reignite their crusade against public health measures implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. Conservative commentators claim that a double standard exists between government reactions to monkeypox and COVID-19, ignoring differences in how the two diseases spread. 

Podcaster Steven Crowder, amid a longer homophobic rant suggesting gay men were engaging in bestiality, claimed on August 2 that COVID-19 health measures were “politically motivated” and that masking and social distancing “didn’t make any difference whatsoever.” Crowder then contrasted those measures with the fact that Pride events still took place this year despite the spread of monkeypox, saying, “They won’t even cancel their gay San Francisco fuckfest.”

From the August 2, 2022, edition of Louder with Crowder, streamed on YouTube

An article for The Federalist titled “Americans Lost Fundamental Freedoms During Covid — But Halting Gay Orgies To Stop Monkeypox Is Too Far?” bemoaned COVID lockdowns and claimed, “We shut down the world for a virus that had no traceable transmission, it was entirely random. It really isn’t too much to ask for gay men to stop engaging in orgies and public sex events for their ‘mental health,’ their ‘self-esteem,’ and to continue ‘having fun.’”

On Twitter, right-wing personalities expressed a similar sentiment. 

Alt-right troll Mike Cernovich tweeted his criticism of public health advocate Dr. Gregg Gonsalves:

Far-right YouTuber Ian Miles Cheong continued his online anti-gay tirade on monkeypox:

Right-wing radio host Dan O’Donnell similarly tweeted:

Gay men are targeted with violence while right-wing media continues to depict them as threats

After the first cases of monkeypox were found among children in the U.S., LGBTQ advocates reported right-wing figures were using the news to falsely claim that gay men were guilty of abuse. This was a part of a larger attempt by right-wing media to use the monkeypox outbreak to depict LGBTQ people as a threat to society. By attempting to evoke the sort of stigmatizing rhetoric pushed during the AIDS epidemic that frames the MSM community as vectors of disease, right-wing media is feeding a culture of prejudice that has already resulted in violence against gay men. 

The above-mentioned article from The Federalist fearmongered that “as gay men spread the virus within their population at startling rates, the chances of it escaping into the mundane world through close contact in stores, crowded streets, or buses increases,” claiming that gay and bisexual men were spreading the disease through “truly selfish behavior [that] is endangering the rest of us.”

Right-wing talk show host Erick Erickson tweeted, “‘My orgy doesn’t affect you,’ said the man who spread monkeypox to the lady who worked at the gas station. Two weeks of no orgies to stop the spread is just too much to ask.”

On Hannity’s August 8 radio show, guest Dr. Brian Tyson said the virus would “spread to the heterosexual community if we don’t get a handle on the gay community to stop the transmission,” and claimed “the CDC and the NIH, they’re afraid to come out and tell the gay community to stop having intercourse until this pandemic goes away.”

On the August 5 edition of his show, Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk characterized the government response to monkeypox as an attempt to avoid offending “the alphabet mafia” of the LGBTQ community, saying, “You can’t go after the gay community for maybe doing something they shouldn’t be doing,” before declaring he would “not live through another lockdown or an erosion of our civil liberties by a corrupt or usurpatious government because we’re afraid to offend people. Don’t care, and you shouldn’t either.”

From the August 5, 2022, edition of The Charlie Kirk Show, streamed on YouTube   

The effects of right-wing media’s misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine put their audience at serious risk. However, these conservative figures are now jeopardizing the health of millions of LGBTQ Americans as well by seeking to stigmatize their sexuality during a public health crisis.

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Mia Gingerich is a researcher at Media Matters. She has a bachelor’s degree in politics and government from Northern Arizona University and has previously worked in rural organizing and local media.

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The preceding article was previously published by Media Matters for America and is republished by permission.

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Politics

Florida school removes posters of Black heroes, teacher resigns in protest

“DeSantis’s culture wars are infiltrating every corner of our state, and it’s Florida’s students who are paying the price”

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O.J. Semmes Elementary School, Pensacola, Florida/Facebook

PENSACOLA – A career special education teacher in Escambia County, Florida resigned this past week just as classes were scheduled to start after a Escambia County Public School District staffer removed posters and pictures of historically significant Black Americans from his classroom.

Michael James, 61, who has taught special ed classes for the past fifteen years told Pensacola News Journal reporter Colin Warren-Hicks in an interview this week that he had emailed a letter to Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and Escambia County Superintendent Tim Smith in which he wrote that a district employee removed the pictures citing the images as being “age inappropriate.”

Images that were removed from the bulletin board at O.J. Semmes Elementary School included depictions of Martin Luther King Jr., Harriett Tubman, Colin Powell and George Washington Carver, James said.

Michael James
Courtesy of Michael James

“It really floored me,” James told the News Journal. “I’ve been teaching special education for 15 years, and it just really floored me when she did that.”

James chose the board’s theme because the majority of the students and the residents in the neighborhoods that surround O.J. Semmes are Black, and he wanted to motivate his students with inspirational leaders they could easily look up to and see themselves.

The Pensacola News Journal reported that Escambia County Public Schools Superintendent Tim Smith  said that “teachers are permitted to decorate their classrooms with educational materials and he was unaware of any policies that would prohibit a teacher from displaying pictures of inspirational American heroes on their walls.”

Smith said a full investigation of the incident, which he called an “anomaly,” has been launched.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, (D-FL 13th District) who is running to secure the Democratic Party nomination to oust DeSantis in the November elections took aim at the sitting governor in a Facebook post:

On Wednesday afternoon the Congressman expanded his remarks saying:

“This is the sad reality of Ron DeSantis’ Florida — a teacher, in a predominantly Black community, comes into their classroom to see posters of historically Black American heroes, including President (Barack) Obama, taken down for being ‘inappropriate,’ Crist said in a statement. “DeSantis’ culture wars are infiltrating every corner of our state, and it’s Florida’s students who are paying the price.”

Florida Politics reported that the controversy comes as the first Florida schools, including Escambia County schools, begin their first academic year under legislation signed by DeSantis that targets “critical race theory.”

Among other rules, the law prohibit lessons teaching students that they are inherently racist, sexist or oppressive because of their race, color, sex or national origin. It would also ban instruction that they are personally responsible and should feel guilty for the past actions of members of their race, color, sex or national origin.

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Log Cabin GOP compares FBI raid on Trump’s Mar-A-Lago to Stonewall

In February, the National Archives asked the Justice Department to investigate Trump’s handling of White House records

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former President Donald J. Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan stand in the main entrance to Trump's exclusive private club & Florida residence Mar-A-Lago on April 17, 2018 (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

WASHINGTON – As the outraged fallout continued in Republican Party circles Tuesday, after special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation executed a search warrant Monday at the South Florida estate of former President Donald Trump, the LGBTQ political group Log Cabin Republicans, (LCR) joined the growing chorus on the right angered by the search.

“Just as the patrons of Stonewall were not intimidated by police, we will not be intimidated by the weaponization of the FBI and DoJ against President Trump or his home, Mar-A-Lago… …where (as we announced hours ago) we will be holding our annual gala later this year!” the group tweeted Monday after news of the search broke.

Reaction to the LCR tweet was swift ranging to from disgust as expressed by LGBTQ writer and radio host Rob Watson to outright anger as noted by former Advocate editor and LGBTQ journalist Matthew Breen.

The FBI’s action was described as unprecedented by legal experts and analysts, however the execution of the search warrant underscores the fact that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland will order investigations into criminal wrong doing to include the former president.

Trump and his Republican allies in Congress have dismissed the FBI search as politically motivated.

While a copy of the search warrant was delivered to Trump’s attorneys, little is known about the predicate probable cause found significant enough that a federal judge authorised the search. The affidavit which is the foundational document showing that a crime had been committed and that evidence would likely be found during the search provided to the judge to make that determination has not been made public.

A Justice Department source told the Blade that last January Trump had been found in possession of 15 boxes of materials at his Florida home, which he relinquished to staff from the National Archives amid concerns he may have violated the Presidential Records Act, (44 U.S.C. Chapter 22).

A certain portion of the paperwork that Trump had in his possession was classified which the Justice Department official noted is by itself criminal in nature.

In February, the National Archives asked the Justice Department to investigate Trump’s handling of White House records. The National Archives said some of the documents Trump turned over to them had been ripped up and taped back together CBS News noted.

It remains to be seen whether the search will lead to criminal charges against the former president or anyone in his immediate orbit, but former prosecutors noted there are serious penalties for violating public records laws the Hill reported Tuesday.

“Highly classified information is treated that way because of its extreme sensitivity. There is a whole range of material that is really a crown jewel, national security, high-consequence sequence. And if that’s what a person carried away rather than leaving it in the hands of the government and complying with the Presidential Records Act, that’s a gravely serious matter,” said John Barrett, a former federal prosecutor who worked for the independent counsel investigating the Iran-contra scandal and served in the DOJ inspector general’s office.

The former president had issued a lengthy statement Monday evening in which he called the raid an “attack by Radical Left Democrats who desperately don’t want me to run for President in 2024.”

The House GOP minority leader Kevin McCarthy promised retribution in a tweet should his party retake control of Congress in the Fall midterm elections:

The Justice Department and the FBI both declined to comment.

Former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Home Being Searched Causes Immediate Political Fallout:

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