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Respect for Marriage Act doesn’t have solid Republican support yet

“These loving couples deserve this certainty and the American people overwhelmingly agree” ~ Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.)

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Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) calls for Republicans to join marriage equality vote (Screenshot/YouTube USA Today)

WASHINGTON – 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.”

Schumer calls for Republicans to join marriage equality vote:

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California Politics

Race to the Midterms: Christy Smith & Tony Hoang

Karen Ocamb & Max Huskins along with the Los Angeles Blade present a limited YouTube series “The Time is Now: Race to the Midterms”

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Screenshot/YouTube

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – The unimaginable is happening. Two years ago, Marc Elias, founder of the voting rights and elections-watcher Democracy Docket, warned that “we are one or two elections from losing our democracy.”

Complete and comprehensive voting rights legislation was needed to prevent that. Nothing happened and now several states are running slates of Trump cultist election deniers and MAGA Republican are “flooding the system” with anti-voting lawsuits. “It’s getting worse. It’s not getting better,” Elias told MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace on Friday.

“The real threat to America’s electoral system is not posed by ineligible voters trying to cast ballots. It is coming from inside the system,” the New York Times Editorial Board wrote Friday, Sept. 23

“All those who value democracy have a role to play in strengthening and supporting the electoral system that powers it, whatever their party. This involves, first, taking the threat posed by election deniers seriously and talking to friends and neighbors about it. It means paying attention to local elections — not just national ones — and supporting candidates who reject conspiracy theories and unfounded claims of fraud. It means getting involved in elections as canvassers or poll watchers or precinct officers….And it means voting, in every race on the ballot and in every election.”

A warranted panic is slowly moving through minority communities across the country — but there is still little concerted national outreach to LGBTQ voters who have our very lives, rights and future at stake in the upcoming Nov. 8 midterm elections. Not that LGBTQ organizations and candidates don’t want to reach out – it’s just incredibly hard to break through all the news noise.

That’s why we — Karen Ocamb and (ally) Max Huskins — have teamed up with the Los Angeles Blade to produce a limited YouTube series “The Time is Now: Race to the Midterms.” Our intention is to bring visibility to candidates and organization leaders and encourage LGBTQ people to get engaged, donate, do whatever they can to ensure a huge turnout for both local and statewide candidates and ballot measures, as well as electing candidates who will keep the US House of Representatives and the US Senate in Democratic hands. 

If MAGA Republicans win, Trump wins and we can kiss our democracy and our freedom goodbye. Think this is an exaggeration? No one really thought the US Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade and put politicians in charge of women’s bodies – but they did. The unthinkable is happening. 

Meet Tony Hoang, Executive Director of Equality California. During the height of the AIDS crisis, the disease was perceived to be isolated to the gay community and gay meant “white.” The result was that many people of color avoided seeking prevention and help. Today, California is a minority-majority state and EQCA has a rainbow staff that reflects that. “We really want to make sure that we reflect the diverse communities that we serve, whether that’s around gender, gender identity, race and ethnicity,” Tony says during the Zoom interview. 

Equality California Votes, their new 501.C4 political action committee, just posted their first ad for out gay candidate Will Rollins (see our interview with Will in Episode 1). “Obviously, this is one of the most consequential election cycles in our lifetimes. And if we want to protect the pro-equality majority that we have in the House, that road runs through California. And so, CA-41, the district where Will Rollins is in, is one of the most important congressional flip opportunities in California. His opponent, Congressman Ken Calvert, for 30 years has voted against things like lowering prescription drug costs for seniors, against abortion rights and reproductive freedom and LGBTQ equality.” 

It would be a “sweet irony” for LGBTQ voters to turn this red seat blue. 

Tony also talks about working with Planned Parenthood to explain why abortion rights is an LGBTQ issue and the importance of voting for Proposition One on the California ballot.

Tony is our first interview in tomorrow’s show. 

Full disclosure: since I am no longer a journalist, I get to express my own opinions and make endorsements. My first endorsement was for former EQCA executive director Rick Chavez Zbur, who I’ve known forever and who’s now running for the state Assembly. My second-ever endorsement was for Christy Smith

Meet Christy Smith, candidate for the CA-27. Christy ran for Katie Hill’s seat after she resigned. That race against Mike Garcia was so nail-bitingly close, she ran again. That race was also heartbreakingly close. But Garcia has gone from a dullard Republican to a major Trump fanboy, hanging around with cultists like Marjorie Taylor Green. He was among the MAGA Republicans who signed the amicus brief to the US Supreme Court asking them specifically to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

“Subsequent to that,” Christy says in our interview, “he’s one of the people who coauthored ‘The Life Begins at Conception Act, which — don’t let them fool you — is their roadmap for a national abortion ban. So, while my opponent now tries to hide in safe spaces and say, ‘Well, abortion is safe in California — why are you so upset?’ Really? They have clearly signaled — and Lindsey Graham the other day just doubled down on the fact that they plan to pursue a national abortion ban. 

“But even aside from that,” she continues, “we should never live in the kind of dystopian country where any person’s rights vary from state to state. And you and I both know — we saw that for a very long time with gay marriage rights in this country, right? Where depending on where you live determines whether or not you can marry the person they love.”

Flipping this seat is a necessity. 

But one of the aspects about Christy Smith that folks may not know is that she’s a policy nerd – and a policy nerd who likes to get things done. 

Here’s a quick clip of Christ talking about how climate change is a paramount national security issue. Please check back here Sunday for our full Episode 2 show of “The Time is Now: Race to the Midterms.”

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Politics

Pennsylvania Republicans advocating broader ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law

“The intent of these bills seems to be to wipe out any discussion and pretend that [LGBTQ people] don’t exist”

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Pennsylvania State Capitol building (Photo by Michael Key, The Washington Blade)

HARRISBURG – A conservative self described ‘Christian Mom’ Republican lawmaker along with other members of her party championed a anti-LGBTQ ‘parental rights bill’ Tuesday during a rally at the Pennsylvania State Capitol building.

State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz (R-Centre/Clinton) along with Republican Cumberland County Rep. Barbara Gleim as co-sponsor introduced House Bill 2813, Bororwicz telling rally attendees that the measure is set to guarantee parental oversight and control over the availability of school materials that she portrayed as increasingly obscene.

State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz (R-Centre/Clinton)
(Screenshot via Office of Rep. Borowicz)

“Many of the mothers joining us today in the state Capitol Rotunda have discovered sexually explicit content and pornographic images in children’s books in school libraries,” Borowicz said. “Passage of my (bill) will fundamentally guarantee that our children can remain children by allowing parents to vigilantly protect their innocence for as long as possible.”

“This is a bill to protect our children from gender ideology and sexual orientation being taught in our schools,” Borowicz added. 

Critics of the measure labeled it another Republican “don’t say gay” law effort, arguing the language goes even farther than the controversial Florida legislation which inspired it.

“It is patterned after the Florida bill, but mine goes further,” Borowicz acknowledged.

Pennsylvania Patriot News reported that the key part of the bill states that any public or charter school “may not offer instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity to a student in kindergarten through fifth grade.”

Florida’s bill, which became law earlier this year, contains nearly identical language, but applies it only through third grade. Borowicz made it clear Tuesday that her desire would be to extend the prohibition all the way through high school, even though the current text of her bill goes only through grade five.

“It really needs to be protected up through 12th grade, we need to go all the way,” she told reporters, voicing support for the similar Senate Bill 1278, which would allow schools to be sued for material that is “not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate” at any grade level.

“This will really add to the existing targeting and bullying of LGBTQ kids in schools,” said Sharon Ward, senior policy advisor for the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania. “The intent of these bills seems to be to wipe out any discussion and pretend that [LGBTQ people] don’t exist.”

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, a Harvard Law school researcher who authored an independent United Nations Human Rights Council study titled; ” “Violence and Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity,” in his research noted “The adoption of comprehensive sexuality education inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity can significantly reduce physical and psychological health risks for LGBT and gender-diverse youth.”

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Religious Extremism/Anti-LGBTQ+ Activism

Far-right influencers are creating new barriers to trans health care

Right-wing media’s campaign against children’s hospitals is making it harder for trans people to access lifesaving medical care

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Graphic by Andrea Austria for Media Matters

By Ari Drennen | WASHINGTON – Just days after the FBI arrested a suspect in the bomb threat against Boston Children’s Hospital, Libs of Tik Tok and The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh resumed their campaign against children’s hospitals that provide lifesaving care to trans people, directing followers’ attention this time to Akron Children’s Hospital and Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.

Right-wing media have established a playbook for inundating hospitals with harassment and forcing them to delete information intended for trans patients from their websites — thus creating yet another barrier for trans people seeking medical care. 

Libs of TikTok first targeted Boston Children’s Hospital on August 11, sharing a video about gender-affirming hysterectomies with an incendiary caption claiming that the procedure was available to “young girls.” The hospital was forced to quickly delete the video, but the narrative had been set in right-wing media, and criticism of the hospital intensified.

On August 15, Walsh made the false and incendiary claim that children’s hospitals across the country were “butchering, mutilating, and sterilizing their young patients.” These attacks were followed by violent threats including threats to “execute” doctors and at least one bomb threat against Boston Children’s Hospital.

Members of the right-wing media initially dismissed the threats, with Infowars’ Owen Shroyer calling it a “false flag,” Chaya Raichik, who runs Libs of TikTok, asserting it was “probably a left-wing person trying to get me suspended,” and Walsh suggesting that it could be a left-wing hoax. It apparently was not. On September 15, the FBI announced the arrest of a suspect who allegedly called hospital operators from her personal cell phone, calling them “sickos,” saying that a bomb was on the way, and demanding that everyone evacuate.

By September 18, Libs of TikTok had returned to the campaign against children’s hospitals that provide gender-affirming care, posting a tweet disclosing that Akron Children’s provides puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones before misleadingly noting that the hospital treats patients as young as 7.

On September 20, Walsh made similar claims about Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, saying it makes “lots of ‘services’ available to children, including chemical castration.”

Misinformation about treatments is rife on social media and in the right wing media, but 7-year-olds do not receive cross-sex hormones and are given puberty blockers only if another underlying disorder is causing precocious puberty. Cross-sex hormones are safe, studied, and effective treatments for gender dysphoria that dramatically reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in trans people.

Information about where to seek out medical care is vital for trans people. Nearly half of all trans people report experiencing mistreatment from medical providers, including verbal or physical abuse. According to a 2016 study, the biggest obstacle to obtaining safe and effective health care for trans people is a lack of knowledge by medical providers. 

The removal of public information intended for patients in the face of a vicious hate campaign creates a new barrier. In addition to Boston Children’s and Akron Children’sChildren’s National in Washington, D.C., and Vanderbilt Children’s in Nashville, Tennessee, have recently been forced to remove information for trans patients. Lurie Children’s hospital in Chicago canceled in-person meetings of a support group for trans youth because of security risks.

Without resistance, the barriers to effective care for trans people could grow further. According to freelance journalist Sydney Bauer, multiple medical providers have said that their worry is that these tactics will lead hospitals to drop gender-affirming care, shifting coverage to private clinics with less resources that could then be endlessly picketed and threatened — exactly the tactic that the right has used against abortion providers. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Raichik has targeted multiple hospitals this year. After earning a weeklong suspension for violating Twitter’s policies prohibiting hateful conduct, Raichik only vowed to double down. “We are not just reporting on this,” said Walsh in a tweet. “We are going to put a stop to it.”

Among the items posted by Libs of Tik Tok about Akron Children’s Hospital is an article with a photo of a 13-year-old girl. Her hair is long and blonde and she’s posed, smiling, next to a horse. They’re sharing a blanket — red, with a white snowflake pattern. The article says that this teenager knew from age 3 that she was transgender, and that with the help of the providers at Akron Children’s, she was able to become her true self. 

She’s a cheerleader. She rides horses. She says that she didn’t want to develop facial hair or for her voice to deepen. This is a story familiar to many trans people. A 2022 study from Stanford Medicine showed that trans people who accessed gender-affirming care as teenagers were less likely to experience major mental or substance abuse disorders than those who were denied care or forced to wait until adulthood.

But for Chaya Raichik, this is a horror story, and her 1.3 million followers flooded the article with hate, misgendering the trans girl and calling her “Buffalo Bill in the making,” a reference to the serial killer from the 1991 horror film The Silence of the Lambs. The article from Akron Children’s closes with a line from that teenager: “If you’re transgender, show it. Tell people,” she said. “It will help other transgender people feel not so alone.” The article has since been deleted.

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Ari Drennen is the LGBTQ program director for Media Matters, where she has worked since January 2022. She has a bachelors degree in political science and economics from Middlebury College. Previously she worked at the Center for American Progress and the League of Conservation Voters

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

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