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Michael Sam could be NFL’s first openly gay player

Michael Sam, football, Missouri, gay news, Washington Blade

MIssouri defensive lineman Michael Sam has come out as gay and could be the NFL’s first out player. (Photo by Marcus Qwertyus; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

In an announcement that will likely shake up professional sports, Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam came out as gay Sunday night and declared his intention to be the National Football League’s first out player.

Sam, 24, a potential mid-round NFL draft pick in May, announced he’s gay in multiple media outlets, including articles in The New York Times and ESPN.

“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” Sam told the Times. “I just want to own my truth.”

According to The New York Times, Sam had previously declared his sexual orientation to teammates during a team-building exercise last year at the University of Missouri, where he played for the Mizzou Tigers in Southeastern Conference Division I football.

“I’m gay,” he reportedly recalled saying on Sunday. “I looked in their eyes, and they just started shaking their heads — like, finally, he came out.”

It’s unclear what will happen with Sam, a senior listed at 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, in the aftermath of his decision to come out because no gay person has ever played in a major North American league while being open about their sexual orientation.

Sam, a Hitchcock, Texas, native, has won accolades from his performance as a college player. The Associated Press named him the Southeastern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year and he was selected as one of 10 unanimous first-team All-Americans.

In a statement Sunday night, the NFL praised Sam for his decision to come out and said his performance as a college player speaks for itself. In 2011, the NFL added sexual orientation to its list of protected classes.

“We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage,” the statement says. “Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”

LGBT advocacy groups praised Sam for making the decision to come out and said it would prove to be a milestone in sports history.

Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, said the NFL hopeful has shown leadership that demonstrates he will be an exceptional football player.

“By rewriting the script for countless young athletes, Michael has demonstrated the leadership that, along with his impressive skills on the field, makes him a natural fit for the NFL,” Ellis said. “With acceptance of LGBT people rising across our coasts — in our schools, churches, and workplaces — it’s clear that America is ready for an openly gay football star.”

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said Sam is “making history” and has provided “essential hope to millions of LGBT young people from the South.”

“Trailblazers like Michael are tearing down barriers to equality almost daily, and I sincerely believe that the young person who will go on to become the first openly LGBT president of the United States watches today’s news somewhere in this country and is inspired,” Griffin said.

Via Twitter, Sam confirmed his decision to come out and thanked those who helped him with his decision.

Sam’s announcement is along the lines of former Washington Wizards center Jason Collins’ decision last year to come out as gay in a Sports Illustrated article. Following that announcement, despite the praise he received, including from President Obama, Collins hasn’t yet been picked up by a team and remains a free agent.

The coming out decision was coordinated by Sam’s publicist Howard Bragman, who also handled the coming out announcements for Collins, openly gay former NFL players Dave Kopay and Wade Davis Jr. as well as gay former Major League Baseball player Billy Bean. He’s the fifth professional athlete that Bragman has helped come out of the closet.

At the same time that major media outlets published the news that Sam was gay, Outsports.com ran its own piece about the internal deliberations leading up to the announcement.

According to the article, Sam decided the he won’t lend his name to LGBT organizations and will simply play the sport as an openly gay man.

Cyd Zeigler, a sports journalist, said Sam has a tremendous chance of success in his bid to play in the NFL following his announcement.

“Every NFL draft expert has Sam being selected in the first to fifth round of this year’s NFL draft,” Zeigler said.

10
Feb
2014

Judge strikes down Virginia gay marriage ban

Carol Schall, Mary Townley, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Virginia

Carol Schall (left) with Mary Townley and their daughter Emily. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A federal judge Thursday struck down Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman as unconstitutional.

“The court is compelled to conclude that Virginia’s marriage laws unconstitutionally deny Virginia’s gay and lesbian citizens the fundamental freedom to choose to marry,” said Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Government interests in perpetuating traditions, shielding state matters from federal interference, and favoring one model of parenting over others must yield to this country’s cherished protections that ensure the exercise of the private choices of the individual citizen regarding love and family.”

Allen, who President Obama nominated to the federal bench in 2010, repeatedly referenced the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1967 ruling that struck down Virginia’s interracial marriage ban in her 41-page decision. She also opened her decision with a quote from Mildred Loving, who publicly backed marriage rights for same-sex couples before her death in 2008.

“Tradition is revered in the commonwealth, and often rightly so,” said Allen. “However, tradition alone cannot justify denying same-sex couples the right to marry any more than it could justify Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage.”

Allen also dismissed arguments made by those who defend Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban that marriage rights for gays and lesbians harms children.

“Of course the welfare of our children is a legitimate state interest,” she said. “Limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples fails to further this interest. Instead, needlessly stigmatizing and humiliating children who are being raised by the loving couples targeted by Virginia’s Marriage Laws betrays that interest.”

Allen’s ruling comes less than two weeks after she heard oral arguments in a lawsuit that Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield filed last year.

“We want to be married for the happy times, but we need to be married for the sad times,” Schall told the Washington Blade earlier this month before Wright heard oral arguments in their case. “When one of us is sick or when one of us needs surgery or when health care is an issue, we need to be there for each other. And Virginia should not be in the business of standing in the way of people wanting to care for each other and take responsibility for each other.”

Virginia voters in 2006 approved the marriage amendment by a 57-43 percent margin.

Attorney General Mark Herring last month announced he would not defend the amendment.

The Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates earlier this month overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow any state lawmaker to defend a law if the governor and attorney general decline to do so. Gov. Terry McAuliffe a few days earlier denied a request from 30 state lawmakers to appoint a special counsel to defend the marriage amendment.

A federal judge in Harrisonburg on Jan. 31 certified a second lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia filed on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley who are seeking marriage rights in the commonwealth as a class action.

“This decision is a victory for the Constitution and for treating everyone equally under the law,” said Herring in a statement after Allen issued her ruling in the Bostic case.

McAuliffe also applauded the decision.

“In order to grow our economy and attract the best businesses, entrepreneurs, and families to Virginia, we must be open and welcoming to all who call our commonwealth home,” he said in a statement. “As this case continues through the judicial process, I will enforce the laws currently on the books, but this decision is a significant step forward in achieving greater equality for all of our citizens.”

Former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson, who successfully argued against California’s Proposition 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court with David Boies, joined the lawsuit last September with the American Foundation for Equal Rights. Olson said in an AFER press release that Allen’s decision has “upheld the principles of equality upon which this nation was founded.”

“Virginia’s prohibition on marriage for same-sex couples relegates gay and lesbian Virginians to second-class status,” he said. “Laws excluding gay men and lesbians from marriage violate personal freedom, are an unnecessary government intrusion, and cause serious harm. That type of law cannot stand.”

Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish said Wright’s ruling “finally puts Virginia on the path toward allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry the person they love here in the place they call home.”

“This is an historic day in Virginia,” added Parrish.

National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown blasted Allen.

“This is another example of an Obama-appointed judge twisting the constitution and the rule of law to impose her own views of marriage in defiance of the people of Virginia,” said Brown in a statement.

Brown also again sharply criticized Herring for not defending the commonwealth’s marriage amendment.

“This case also leaves a particular stench because of the unconscionable decision of Attorney General Mark Herring to not only abandon his sworn duty to defend the laws of the state, but to actually join the case against the very people he is duty-bound to represent,” said Brown.

Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, also criticized Herring.

“Regardless of one’s stance on marriage, the people of Virginia were disenfranchised by this ruling as our voice and our vote that amended our Constitution have been rendered meaningless by a single federal judge with the assistance of our own attorney general,” she said.

Neighboring Maryland is among the 18 states and D.C. that have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The Southern Poverty Law Center earlier on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit against Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban on behalf of a gay widower who married his late-husband in Massachusetts in 2011.

A federal judge on Wednesday ruled Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states.

Gays and lesbians in West Virginia, Utah, Pennsylvania, Florida, Missouri, Louisiana and other states have filed lawsuits seeking marriage rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision last June that found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto earlier this week announced she will no longer defend her state’s same-sex marriage ban in court.

Attorney General Eric Holder on Feb. 10 announced the Justice Department will now recognize same-sex marriages in civil and criminal cases and extend full benefits to gay spouses of police officers and other public safety personnel. This directive applies to Virginia and the 31 other states that have yet to allow nuptials for gays and lesbians.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) earlier on Thursday introduced a bill that would ban the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages in states that ban gay nuptials.

Allen has stayed her ruling, pending the outcome of an appeal.

14
Feb
2014

BREAKING: Arizona governor vetoes ‘turn away the gay’ bill

Jan Brewer, Republican Party, Arizona, gay news, Washington Blade

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (Photo by Gage Skidmore; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

Following a firestorm of opposition from LGBT advocates, Republican leaders and business leaders, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announced on Wednesday she vetoed a controversial bill that would have allowed individuals to refuse to serve prospective customers on religious grounds.

“After weighing all of the arguments, I have vetoed Senate bill 1062 moments ago,” Brewer told reporters.

Critics said the measure would have enabled businesses to individuals to refuse services to LGBT people out of religious concerns.

Brewer said she vetoed the legislation after taking “the necessary time to make the right decision,” touting her record protecting religious freedoms in the state.

“Senate bill 1062 does not address a specific or pressing concern related to religious liberty in Arizona,” Brewer said. “I have not heard one example in Arizona where business owner religious liberty has been violated. The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences.”

Noting that she had called for a responsible budget and a child protections when speaking before the legislature last month, Brewer chided lawmakers for making SB 2016 “the first policy bill to cross my desk.”

“To supporters of this legislation, I want you to know that I understand long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before,” Brewer said. “Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes. However, I sincerely belief that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve.”

Following her announcement, Brewer posted a picture of her vetoing SB 1062 via her Twitter account.

 

The announcement made Brewer strange bed fellows with LGBT advocates, who praised her for rejecting the legislation.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said Brewer “spared her state” from a law that would have enabled discrimination.

“The bipartisan outpouring of opposition to this bill is all the proof you need that this country isn’t turning backwards,” Griffin said. “Gov. Brewer did the right thing in stopping this assault on businesses and the LGBT community and we call on her and the legislature — and governors and legislators in other states — to resist any attempt to give license to discrimination.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, commended Brewer for vetoing the legislation.

“We thank Gov. Brewer for her decision to veto this outrageous measure — a law that if enacted would be bad for Arizona people and the Arizona economy,” Carey said. “In doing so, she has stopped a bill that both cynically uses religion as a smokescreen to justify discrimination and insults people of faith who feel that discrimination is morally wrong. This decision sends a clear message that extremism is totally unacceptable to people of all political persuasions.”

Erin Ogletree, president of Log Cabin Republicans of Arizona, said the veto is a watershed moment that “signaling that Arizonans and all people of goodwill” don’t support discrimination.

“It is also a loud wake-up call to the Republican Party,” Ogletree said. “We do best when we champion the freedom and rights of all individuals. It is time to refocus on being the party of limited, competent, and accountable governing that welcomes everyone.”

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce, Apple and the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee are among the myriad of organizations and businesses that called upon Brewer to veto Senate Bill 1072. U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also urged the Arizona governor not to sign the measure.

Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay Family Research Council, nonetheless expressed disappointment that Brewer vetoed the bill, saying she “yielded to the cultural bullies.”

“This measure should have been a political no-brainer and only went down because people either chose to ignore the plain language of the bill or refused to read it altogether,” Perkins said. “Apparently, they’re graduates of the Pelosi School of Policy, where they dispose of bills before they find out what’s in them.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday the legislation sounds “pretty intolerant,” but the White House never issued a full-throated opposition to the bill. No LGBT advocates called on Obama to speak out against the legislation as some said his opposition could have in fact influenced Brewer to sign the bill into law.

As the Washington Blade previously reported, the Arizona bill is part of a national trend of movement on state bills aimed at expanding the exercise to religion to allow discrimination against LGBT people. Other bills are pending in Mississippi and Kansas and others has been defeated in Maine and South Dakota.

Michael K. Lavers contributed to this report.

27
Feb
2014

BOWSER TOPPLES GRAY

Muriel Bowser, mayor, D.C. Council, Democratic Party, primary, gay news, Washington Blade

Council member Muriel Bowser defeated Mayor Vince Gray, setting up a contest with gay Council member David Catania in November. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) won 13 out of 16 precincts believed to have high concentrations of LGBT residents in her victory over Mayor Vincent Gray and six other candidates in the city’s Democratic primary on Tuesday.

In final but unofficial returns released by the Board of Elections and Ethics, Bowser had 44 percent of the vote compared to 32 percent for Gray in one of the city’s lowest turnout elections.

Bowser’s decisive win created deep disappointment among the large number of LGBT activists supporting Gray, many of whom consider him the nation’s most LGBT supportive mayor. His initiatives on transgender equality earned him strong and loyal support from the transgender community.

Although Bowser had a strong showing in voter precincts with high concentrations of LGBT residents, some activists backing Gray said they would take a careful look at gay Council member David Catania (I-At-Large), who will be running against Bowser as an independent candidate in the November general election.

“I am still proud of our mayor, Vince Gray,” said gay Democratic activist Lane Hudson, who co-founded Gray Pride, an LGBT group that campaigned for Gray.

“I will be listening very carefully to what Muriel Bowser says and does to bring our party together and also curious of the tone and approach that David Catania brings to this race,” Hudson told the Blade.

Transgender activist Jeri Hughes, along with Hudson, were among the many LGBT supporters that attended Gray’s election night gathering at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill.

Like many Gray supporters, Hughes blamed Gray’s defeat on the decision by U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen to publicly disclose two weeks before the election that businessman Jeffrey Thompson implicated Gray in a scheme to raise more than $500,000 in illegal funds for Gray’s 2010 election campaign. Gray has long denied having any knowledge of the scheme, which the U.S. Attorney’s office has been investigating for four years.

“My thinking is that Ron Machen should be forced out of D.C.,” Hughes said following Gray’s concession speech. “His innuendo affected the outcome of this election, and the District of Columbia is going to have to pay for it,” she said.

Vincent Gray, Democratic Party, District of Columbia, primary, gay news, Washington Blade

Mayor Vincent Gray lost his bid for re-election, weeks after the U.S. Attorney implicated him in a scheme to raise illegal funds for his last race. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“Vincent Gray did an excellent job as the mayor,” Hughes said.  “And it’s a sad thing that innuendo can influence an election to where someone who has done an excellent job can lose in the last stages of his campaign.”

In what political observers are calling one of the biggest upsets in this year’s City Council elections, gay four-term Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) lost his re-election bid to political newcomer Brianne Nadeau, a civic activist and vice president of a local public relations firm.

Nadeau expressed strong support for LGBT rights while criticizing Graham for an ethics charge involving a Metro development contract that led to a decision by his Council colleagues to vote 11 to 2 to officially reprimand him last year.

Saying Graham’s ethics charge followed the arrest and prosecution of two other D.C. Council members on corruption-related charges, Nadeau called on voters, including LGBT voters, to elect her to send a message that political corruption is unacceptable.

Jim Graham, gay news, Washington Blade, Democratic Party, primary

Gay Council member Jim Graham was defeated on Tuesday, ending a 16-year run on the Council. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Graham’s long record as a champion for LGBT rights and his work in fighting AIDS as the former executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic made him highly popular in the LGBT community. And his reputation as one of the Council’s strongest providers of constituent services made him highly popular among the ward’s highly diverse population groups, including Latino and African immigrants.

Most political observers in the ward believe the ethics issue was the key factor in Graham’s loss of support from many of his constituents, including LGBT residents.

Nadeau beat Graham decisively in four of six Ward 1 precincts believed to have large numbers of LGBT residents in Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights and the U Street, N.W. corridor. Graham won just one of the six precincts — Precinct 36 in Columbia Heights — by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent.

He lost Precinct 137 in the U Street corridor by just one vote, with Nadeau receiving 125 votes to Graham’s 124 votes. Nadeau won the others by margins of greater than 10 percent.

“We did our best to represent the great diversity of this ward, bringing together people of all backgrounds in a common purpose who deserve good representation here in Ward 1,” Graham said at his election night gathering in a restaurant in Mount Pleasant.

“Let’s give all of the people who worked so hard a round of applause because we have solid support from African Americans, solid support from Latinos, solid support from the Ethiopian community, solid support from the Vietnamese and pretty solid support from people who look like me,” he said.

In her victory speech at another restaurant at 11th and U streets, N.W., Nadeau thanked Graham for what she said were his years of service to Ward 1. But she also reiterated her campaign call for addressing ethics in government.

“Today voters embraced ethical leadership focused on making Ward 1 more affordable and improving our neighborhood schools,” she said. “Together we built a strong grassroots movement for progressive change, one that resonated far and wide with voters.”

With Nadeau and Bowser perceived as being strongly committed to LGBT rights, even though their records could not stand up to the accomplishments of Graham and Gray on those issues, many LGBT voters chose to base their vote on non-LGBT issues, according to activists following the city’s April 1 primary.

“All of the candidates are great on our issues and we are really fortunate to have an embarrassment of riches among the candidates,” said gay businessman Everett Hamilton, who is among Bowser’s leading LGBT supporters.

The six other Democratic mayoral candidates, all of whom expressed strong support for LGBT equality, finished far behind Bowser and Gray.

Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) came in third place with 13 percent of the vote. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) came in fourth with 4 percent. Busboys and Poets restaurant owner and progressive activist Andy Shallal finished fifth with 3 percent followed by Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) who received 2 percent. Former State Department official Reta Lewis and businessman and singer Carlos Allen received less than 1 percent.

Similar to other D.C. residents, most LGBT voters are registered Democrats. But at least some longtime LGBT Democratic activists have said they would seriously consider backing Catania in the general election in November.

Gay Democratic activist Paul Kuntzler, a founding member of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, supported Gray in the primary. In a letter he sent to Catania’s office on Wednesday, Kuntzler said he’s supporting Catania over Bowser in November.

“I believe David will make a great mayor,” he said. “I also believe he will win in November. I have voted for him every time he has been on the ballot.”

A poll released by the Washington Post in late March, however, showed that Bowser was favored by voters participating in the poll by a margin of 56 percent to 23 percent. Catania’s campaign manager, Ben Young, said the poll was conducted just two weeks after Catania declared his candidacy for mayor and after Bowser had been campaigning for more than a year.

Young, along with other Catania supporters, said Catania’s support would rise in the coming months as he steps up his campaign.

In other races, D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), won his primary contest by beating Democratic challenger Calvin Gurley by a margin of 81 percent to 18 percent. A series of attack ads lodged against Mendelson by the Labor Committee of the Fraternal Order of Police, which acts as the local D.C. police union, accusing Mendelson of failing to take adequate measures to fight anti-LGBT hate crimes appears to have had no impact on the election.

Incumbent Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, won in a six-candidate race by capturing 53 percent of the vote. Challenger Nate Bennett-Fleming, who campaign aggressively for the LGBT vote, came in second with 22 percent. Challenger John Settles received 14 percent, with Pedro Rubio and Kevin Valentine receiving 7 percent and 3 percent.

Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) defeated two Democratic challengers in his primary contest by capturing 79 percent of the vote. In Ward 6, where the Council seat is being vacated by Tommy Wells, who ran for mayor, Wells’ former chief of staff, Charles Allen beat former U.S. Senate staffer Darrel Thompson by a margin of 58 percent to 42 percent.

In a hotly contested race for the city’s shadow U.S. Senate seat, incumbent Paul Strauss defeated challenger Pete Ross by a margin of 60 percent to 38 percent.

D.C. congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) ran unopposed in their respective races.

02
Apr
2014

Brendon Ayanbadejo, Washington Blade announce special LGBT sports edition

Brendon Ayanbadejo, gay news, Washington Blade, Baltimore Ravens

Brendon Ayanbadejo will guest edit a special LGBT sports edition of the Washington Blade (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a press conference today in downtown Washington, DC, Washington Blade Editor, Kevin Naff, announced that three-time National Football League (NFL) Pro Bowl award winner and 2013 Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl Champ, Brendon Ayanbadejo, will serve as the guest editor of an August 30th special-edition issue of the newspaper focused on LGBT issues in professional sports. Located in the nation’s capital, the Washington Blade is the oldest, national newspaper of record for the LGBT community.

“The topic of gay athletes in professional sports has generated significant national attention, and as more athletes ponder coming out while continuing to play, we felt the time was right to publish a first-ever, special sports edition of the Washington Blade,” said the Washington Blade’s Editor, Kevin Naff. “In another first, we’re excited today to be announcing that Brendon Ayanbadejo, a champion for equality both on and off the field, will serve as guest editor for our special sports edition.”

Brendon Ayanbadejo is a long-time, outspoken ally for LGBT equality and since 2009 has publicly advocated for marriage equality for same-sex couples. In 2013, Ayanbadejo and his NFL colleague, Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, filed a joint amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of same-sex marriage in the California Prop 8 case currently in front of the court. Learn more about Brendon Ayanbadejo’s work at his official site. 

Naff continued, “There has been no one more visibly an ally in the fight for equality in professional sports than Brendon, who publicly endorsed marriage equality in 2009. It was a courageous stand, and his advocacy has undoubtedly saved lives and given hope to young athletes coming to terms with their sexual orientation.”

The Washington Blade was founded in 1969 as a black and white, one-sheet community newsletter distributed in D.C.-area bars. In October 2009, the Washington Blade celebrated its 40th anniversary as an award-winning news source with a large following in print and online. Readers locally and around the world have come to rely on the media outlet’s unmatched coverage of LGBT news, earning the paper the moniker “the newspaper of record for the LGBT community.

Video from the event is also available below.

The Washington Blade sports issue will come out on Aug. 30.

The Washington Blade sports issue will come out on Aug. 30.

06
Jun
2013

HISTORIC: SENATE PASSES ENDA

Tammy Baldwin, gay news, Washington Blade, Employment Non-Discrimination Act, United States Senate, Democratic Party, Wisconsin, religious exemptions

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is among the supporters of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

For the first time in history, the U.S. Senate approved with bipartisan support a long sought piece of legislation that would bar employers from discriminating against or firing workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

By a vote of 64-32, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed the Senate, marking the first time that either chamber of Congress has passed a version of the bill with protections for transgender workers.

A total of 10 Republicans voted in favor of the bill: Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). All 54 Democrats present voted in favor of the legislation.

The vote also marks a turnaround for the Senate. In 1996, a version of ENDA came to the floor as part of a deal to bring up the Defense of Marriage Act for a vote, but the pro-gay bill failed at that time.

Prior to the vote, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), ENDA’s chief sponsor, delivered a speech on the Senate floor recognizing the historic nature of the moment.

“I look forward to this vote, this vote for liberty, this vote for freedom, this vote for opportunity, this vote for a fair and just America,” Merkley said.

Merkley also recognized the “champions of liberty” he said helped move ENDA forward like lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Republican senators who joined in support of the bill.

Senators approved ENDA after three days of debate on the legislation, which began on Monday morning. Many senators spoke out in favor of the legislation ranging from Democrats like Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) to Republicans like Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) invoked the LGBT non-discrimination law in Minnesota as evidence the country can enact a similar statute on a nationwide basis.

“We have had this law in place for over 20 years in Minnesota, and what has been the effect?” Franken said. “For LGBT Minnesotans, it has meant that they don’t have to live in fear of being fired, or discriminated against in hiring, just because of who they are or whom they love. That is a big deal.”

The only senator to speak out in opposition to the legislation was Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.). On Thursday morning, Coats said he couldn’t bring himself to support ENDA out of concern for religious liberties of employers — despite the exemption in the bill for religious institutions.

“I oppose discrimination of any kind, and that includes discrimination of individuals or institutions for their faith and values, which often gets lost and has been lost in this discussion,” Coats said. “So there’s two types of discrimination here we’re dealing with and one of those goes to the very fundamental right granted to every American through our Constitution, a cherished value of freedom of expression and religion. And I believe this bill diminishes that freedom.”

Flake, who initially expressed opposition to the bill over its transgender protections, said he ultimately voted “yes” on the bill “to protect the rights of individuals.” In 2007, Flake voted as a U.S. House member for a version of ENDA with sexual orientation-only protections.

“While I had concerns about expanding protections beyond those House provisions, after consideration, I believe supporting this bill is the right thing to do,” Flake said. “I am hopeful that the bill moves forward in a way that works for employers as well as employees.”

McCain issued a similar statement saying he voted in favor of ENDA because of his opposition to employment discrimination.

“I have always believed that workplace discrimination – whether based on religion, gender, race, national origin or sexual orientation – is inconsistent with the basic values that America holds dear,” McCain said. “With the addition of an amendment I co-sponsored with Senators Rob Portman and Kelly Ayotte strengthening protections for religious institutions, I am pleased to support this legislation.”

Advocates praise vote, look to House of Representatives, White House

LGBT advocates heaped praise on the Senate for passing ENDA as they turned their attention to the House of Representatives, where Republican control makes passage significantly more challenging, and the White House.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the Senate made history “by standing up for a fundamental American truth.”

“Each and every American worker should be judged based on the work they do, and never based on who they are,” Griffin said. “This broad Senate coalition has sent a vital message that civil rights legislation should never be tied up by partisan political games.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, commended the Senate for approving ENDA on a bi-partisan basis and said the House should take the same action.

“The Senate has taken a bi-partisan and historic step toward ensuring that gay and transgender Americans have the same workplace protections that give all Americans a fair shot to succeed on the job,” Almeida said. “Our fight now moves to the House of Representatives where Speaker Boehner and the Republican Conference will have to decide which side of history they want to stand on.”

Both Griffin and Almeida said President Obama should follow up on the Senate vote by issuing an executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in LGBT discrimination.

Griffin said the directive would send a clear signal against “in support of workplace fairness” in addition to a House vote.

“This order is not a silver bullet, and ENDA is vitally necessary after the order is signed,” Griffin said. “But the Human Rights Campaign has long argued that, by signing the order, President Obama can extend workplace protections to over 16 million American workers.”

Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay Family Research Council, responded to Senate passage of ENDA with dismay.

“Americans should be free to disagree, but ENDA would lead to a form of reverse discrimination,” Perkins said. “Anyone who expresses or promotes a view of family or morality that can be interpreted to be a disapproval of homosexual or transgender conduct will be subject to retaliation and discrimination.”

Despite claims like these from social conservatives, LGBT advocates have insisted that the bill would do nothing more than prohibit employers from discriminating against LGBT employees.

Speaking with the Washington Blade prior to the vote, Merkley said the task now for ENDA supporters is taking the momentum from the Senate to “create an irresistible pressure” for consideration in the House.

“With no shred of an argument to sustaining this type of discrimination, and a strong bi-partisan vote in the Senate, I hope we can create the pressure in the House to act,” Merkley said.

Similar to prior claims made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Merkley predicted that ENDA would pass the House if Republican leadership held a vote on the legislation.

“I do believe that if an up-or-down vote was held on what we would pass through the Senate that it would pass the House,” Merkley said. “If a majority of the House is ready to say ‘no’ to discrimination, it is wrong for the leadership to block that vote, and I hope that they’ll come to see that view and allow such a vote to happen.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney addressed the vote on Thursday during his routine news briefing taking place at the same time, saying passage of ENDA in the House would be the “right thing to do because we’re all equal.”

“To oppose this kind of legislation is to announce that you want to be left behind by history,” Carney said. “The necessity of making sure that every American has equal rights is fundamental to our history and to who we are. And that’s what this legislation represents. Some of the objections that I’ve heard from members in the House are reminiscent of objections that opponents of other civil rights legislation put forward. And they were wrong then and they’re wrong now.”

The vote on final passage took place about 45 minutes after the Senate invoked cloture by a vote of 64-34 to end debate on the legislation.

The Senate earlier held a cloture vote Monday on ENDA, but that vote was to begin debate on the legislation. A second cloture vote was necessary to end debate and proceed to final vote.

ENDA amendments debated

Two amendments were also discussed with respect to the legislation. One was adopted, the other was not.

On Thursday, the Senate defeated an amendment proposed by Sen. Pat Toomney (R-Pa.) that would have expanded the groups eligible under ENDA’s religious exemption. That amendment, which required 60 votes to pass, failed on a 43-55 vote.

Prior to the vote, Toomey said his measure was an attempt to “strike an appropriate balance,” saying he opposes discrimination against LGBT people, but “another important American value is freedom, and particularly religious freedom.”

But Harkin spoke out on the Senate floor against the Toomey amendment for going too far. Noting ENDA already has a religious exemption, Harkin said if the Toomey amendment were approved, “thousands of for-profit businesses” would be allowed to discriminate.

Baldwin also said the expansion of the religious exemption that Toomey proposed wasn’t the appropriate balance.

“A capable employee in a non-religious [institution] should not be fired, or not be hired, because of his or her employer’s individual religious beliefs,” Baldwin said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) initially cast a vote “no” vote in opposition to the amendment. But just before the vote was called, he rushed into the Senate chamber to inform the clerk he wanted to vote “yes” on the measure.

Notably, even though his amendment failed, Toomey voted “yes” in favor of ENDA during final passage.

On Wednesday, the Senate adopted with no controversy by voice vote an amendment to ENDA, introduced by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), to ensure that institutions that invoke the religious exemption under ENDA won’t face retaliation from state, local or federal governments. LGBT advocates didn’t oppose the measure because they said it would simply reinforce the status quo.

Speaking on the floor, Ayotte commended the Senate for adopting the amendment to ENDA, which she said enables her to come on board in support.

“I have long been a strong supporter of the rights of conscience, of the rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution to religious freedom, and these protections are very important within this bill,” Ayotte said.

Two other amendments that were filed — one proposed by Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to attach a national right-to-work law to ENDA, another proposed by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) that reportedly would have banned sex-selective abortions — didn’t come up for a vote.

Merkley said only the Portman and Toomey amendments were allowed to come up as a part of a unanimous consent agreement reached on Wednesday.

07
Nov
2013

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08
Jun
2013

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25
Jun
2013

BREAKING: SUPREME COURT STRIKES DOWN DOMA, PROP 8

Proposition 8, Prop 8, DOMA, Defense of Marriage Act, Supreme Court, gay rights, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Activists held signs and a flag in front of the Supreme Court in hopes of a decision on the Proposition 8 and Defense of Marriage Act cases. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

On Tuesday the Supreme Court struck down two key anti-gay laws: a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act preventing the Federal Government from recognizing legal same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal, and California’s voter-approved Proposition 8, which ended same-sex marriage rights in that state.

In a 5-4 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan, writing the opinion striking down a key provision in DOMA in the case of Windsor v. the United States, calling the law a “deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment,” According to SCOTUSblog.com.

“DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled ot recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty,” the decision reads.

The move could open the door to federal recognition of legally married same-sex couples who have wed in states where such nuptials are legal. Immigration rights experts hope the decision also means that American citizens will be able to sponsor their same-sex spouses for citizenship, something currently against the law.

The second gay marriage decision of the day struck down California’s Proposition 8 based on standing, vacating the 9th Circuit Court’s opinion, and upholding the U.S. District Court of California’s ruling, authored by Vaughn Walker.

“We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to,” read the majority opinion in Hollingsworth v. Perry authored by Chief Justice John Roberts. “We decline to do so for the first time here.”

In the Hollingsworth opinion, Roberts was joined by Justices Scalia, Ginsberg, Breyer and Kagan.

Justices Scalia was joined by Justice Thomas in his dissent to the Windsor decision, with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito both writing his own dissent, agreeing with Thomas in part.

In his dissent in Windsor, Scalia questions the level of scrutiny the majority applied to the law, where Alito’s dissent revolves around the question of standing, according to legal experts.

This story is developing, come back to the Blade for more throughout the day.

26
Jun
2013

HISTORIC: Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, Prop 8

Supreme Court, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Hollingsworth vs. Perry, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay marriage advocates rallying at the Supreme Court earlier this year during oral arguments for two major cases. The court struck down two anti-gay laws today, opening the door for expanded rights for same-sex couples in many jurisdictions. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a historic development, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down two decisions on Wednesday that advanced marriage rights for gay couples and will almost certainly reshape the national debate on the issue.

In one 5-4 ruling, the court determined that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional because it violates due process and equal protection for same-sex couples under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That decision means the U.S. government must begin recognizing same-sex marriages for a broad range of benefits, including those related to federal taxes and immigration law.

Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion and was joined by Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Kennedy said. “By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

The dissenting justices were Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. In his opinion, Roberts says Congress acted constitutionally in passing DOMA and took issue with the authority the court granted itself in overturning the anti-gay statute.

In another 5-4 decision, the court determined anti-gay forces don’t have standing to defend California’s Proposition 8. That decision leaves in place a district court injunction that prohibits the state of California from enforcing its ban on same-sex marriage. Gay couples will be able to marry in the state once the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lift its stay.

Roberts wrote the majority opinion for the court and was joined by Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan. Kennedy wrote the dissenting opinion and was joined by Thomas, Alito and Sotomayor.

“The Article III requirement that a party invoking the jurisdiction of a federal court seek relief for a personal, particularized injury serves vital interests going to the role of the Judiciary in our system of separated powers,” Roberts writes. “States cannot alter that role simply by issuing to private parties who otherwise lack standing a ticket to the federal courthouse.”

The court’s ruling in the case against Prop 8, known as Hollingsworth v. Perry, is specific only to California — meaning the justices didn’t grant the expansive ruling that supporters of marriage equality had sought to bring marriage equality to all 50 states.

Shortly after HRC President Chad Griffin walked out of the court with plaintiffs in the marriage cases, he received a call from President Obama who was aboard Air Force One. Obama congratulated Griffin for the victories as reporters and onlookers watched.

The decisions were handed down 10 years to the day that the Supreme Court announced its landmark decision in the 2003 case of Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state sodomy laws throughout the country.

The challenge to DOMA, known as United States v. Windsor, was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and others in 2011 on behalf of lesbian New York widow Edith Windsor. Upon the death of her spouse Thea Spyer in 2009, Windsor had to pay the U.S. government $363,000 in estate taxes because of DOMA — a penalty that she wouldn’t have faced if she were married to a woman.

The decision striking down DOMA affirms the initial rulings against the federal anti-gay law last year by U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones and the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Obama administration helped in securing the ruling against DOMA. After it stopped defending DOMA in 2011, the U.S. Justice Department began filing briefs against the law and sent attorneys to litigate against it during oral arguments. U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argued against DOMA before the Supreme Court, saying the law doesn’t hold up under the standard heightened scrutiny, or a greater assumption it’s unconstitutional.

But the Supreme Court didn’t get to the issue of heightened scrutiny in the DOMA case because it found the law was unconstitutional under the less stringent standard of rational basis review.

The case against Prop 8 was filed by the California-based American Foundation for Equal Rights in 2009 on behalf of two plaintiff couples — a lesbian couple, Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, and a gay male couple, Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo — who were unable to marry because of the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

The attorneys representing them were Theodore Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general during the Bush administration, and David Boies, a so-called “dream team” of attorneys who represented opposite sides in the 2000 case Bush v. Gore.

Because the state officials — California Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris — refused to defend Prop 8 in court, anti-gay groups that put Prop 8 on the ballot in 2008 such as ProtectMarriage.com took up the responsibility of defending the measure. The California Supreme Court certified the groups had standing under state law and the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed they had standing.

But the high court determined that these groups — even though attorney Charles Cooper spoke on behalf on them in oral arguments — don’t have standing because they lack any legal injury in the wake of the lower court’s determination that Prop 8 is unconstitutional.

The Obama administration had also assisted in efforts to secure a ruling against California’s Proposition 8. The Justice Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief in February saying the ban was unconstitutional and Verrilli argued in court against Prop 8, suggesting all eight states with domestic partnerships should be required to grant marriage rights to gay couples.

The issue of standing also came up in the DOMA case for two reasons. One, the court had questioned whether the U.S. Justice Department could have appealed the district court ruling to the Second Circuit because the initial ruling against DOMA was what the Obama administration wanted. Two, the court questioned whether the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, a five-member Republican-majority panel within the U.S. House, had standing to take up defense of DOMA in the administration’s stead.

But the court determined an active controversy remains in the case because the U.S. government still hasn’t refunded Windsor the $363,000 she paid in estate taxes. Once the court determined it has jurisdiction based on the Obama administration’s appeal of the lawsuit, it didn’t get to the issue of whether BLAG has standing.

In his ruling, Kennedy writes the continuation of litigation in the absence of a federal ruling on DOMA would cause uncertainty.

“[T]he costs, uncertainties, and alleged harm and injuries likely would continue for a time measured in years before the issue is resolved,” Kennedy writes in the ruling. “In these unusual and urgent circumstances, the very term ‘prudential’ counsels that it is a proper exercise of the Court’s responsibility to take jurisdiction.”

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2013