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“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
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Posts for January, 2010

Ninety US Congress Reps Denounce Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill

Jim Burroway

January 21st, 2010

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) issued a press release announcing that more than ninety colleagues in the House of Representatives, including Barny Frank (D-MA) and Jared Polis (D-CO), have sent separate letters to President Barack Obama (PDF: 2 MB/6 pages) and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (PDF: 5 pages/1.7 MB ) calling the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill “the most extreme and hateful attempt by an African country to criminalize their LGBT community.” According to the press release:

In the letters, the Members of Congress call the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009 “the most extreme and hateful attempt by an African country to criminalize their LGBT community.” The Members asked President Obama to use his “personal leadership, and that of our country, in seeking to deter these legislative proposals,” and warned President Museveni that, “Should the bill be passed, any range of bilateral programs important to relations between our countries and, indeed, to the Ugandan people inevitably would be called under review.”

Rep. Baldwin called the proposed legislation “an appalling violation of human rights,” and calls on President Obama to “use the full force of his office to oppose this hateful and life-threatening legislation.” Rep. Polis said, “This is nothing more than the institutionalization of hatred and bigotry and it must be stopped,” while calling on Obama and Museveni “to do everything in their powers to prevent it from becoming law.”

Rep. Frank said, “Having accepted debt relief from the international community only a few years ago, Uganda has an obligation to show some respect for basic human rights. He also warned that “Vicious unleashing of persecution of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people should and will be an obstacle to any future Congressional initiative to provide aid to that country.”

Click here to see BTB’s complete coverage of the past year’s anti-gay developments in Uganda.

Click here to read the letters sent to President Barack Obama and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Pot Before Marriage

Jim Burroway

June 18th, 2009

As we reported earlier, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) has announced that he will introduce the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) into Congress sometime next week. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) is lined up to beamong the eight cosponsors of that bill. He and Baldwin are already among the 120 co-sponsors of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act which is still working its way through the Senate. And they are among the 147 co-sponsors of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2009, which would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Barny and Baldwin however haven’t had the time or the inclination to introduce a repeal of the “Defense of Marraige Act.” Maybe they don’t feel that the time is right politically. Maybe they’re looking for a signal from the White House or Congressional leadership. I don’t know.

But they have decided that the time is ripe to introduce, along with arch-homophobe Ron Paul (R-TX) and Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA), the “Act to Remove Federal Penalties for Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults.”

Barney Frank Was Against The DOMA Brief Before He Was For It

Jim Burroway

June 18th, 2009

There are three openly gay representatives in the U.S. Congress. As of Tuesday, we saw statements from two of the three — Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) condemning the Justice Department’s brief defending the “Defense of Marriage Act,” and we wondered when Barney Frank (D-MA) was going to issue an official statement.

Yesterday, it appeared that Frank was going to add his voice in condemnation to the brief as well. He told the Boston Herald:

“I think the administration made a big mistake. The wording they used was inappropriate,” Frank (D-Newton) said of a brief filed by Obama’s Department of Justice that supported the Defense of Marriage Act. … “I’ve been in touch with the White House and I’m hoping the president will make clear these were not his views,” Frank said.

But by the time Frank got around to releasing an official statement, he had a change of heart:

“When I was called by a newspaper reporter for reaction to the administration’s brief defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, I made the mistake of relying on other people’s oral descriptions to me of what had been in the brief, rather than reading it first.  It is a lesson to me that I should not give in to press insistence that I comment before I have had a chance fully to inform myself on the subject at hand.”

“Now that I have read the brief, I believe that the administration made a conscientious and largely successful effort to avoid inappropriate rhetoric.  There are some cases where I wish they had been more explicit in disavowing their view that certain arguments were correct, and to make it clear that they were talking not about their own views of these issues, but rather what was appropriate in a constitutional case with a rational basis standard – which is the one that now prevails in the federal courts, although I think it should be upgraded.”

This, of course, is the same brief which suggests that DOMA doesn’t discriminate against gay people because gay people are free to marry anyone they want, as long as its someone of the opposite sex. And besides, the brief continues, if it did discriminate, that’s okay too. Maybe Congress just wanted to save a few bucks in Social Security benefits, and that’s a good enough reason right there — never mind that we pay the same taxes into the fund just like everyone else.

But then, Barny Frank also doesn’t want anyone to spoil the DNC fundraiser for next week. “There are a lot of people who aren’t boycotting. I think it’s a mistake to deny money to the DNC,” he told the Boston Herald.

But Frank does point to another lawsuit filed by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders in Boston’s Federal District Court behalf of eight married couples and three surviving spouses from Massachusetts who have been denied federal legal protections available to spouses. That GLAD lawsuit, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management challenges only Section Three of DOMA, the section which bars the federal government from recongizing same-sex marriages or providing benefits to same-sex couples

Gill v. OPM is considered a much stronger suit than Smelt v. United States, which the recent DOJ brief addresssed. The Justice Department is required to answer GLAD’s lawsuit by June 29. We’ll be watching that one very closely.

Meanwhile, Frank, along with three other Democrats and four Republicans will introduce a revised Employment Non-Discrimination Act next week in Congress. Unlike last year’s bill, this one includes transgender people in its coverage.

Barney Frank on Rick Warren, Obama, and the “Gay Agenda”

Jim Burroway

January 8th, 2009

Jeffrey Toobin has a great profile of Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) in the latest New Yorker. First thing that pops out is that Frank intends to be much more aggressive than Obama:

Frank’s mordant view of human nature presents a contrast to the sunnier approach of President-elect Obama, a difference reflected in their dispute over Obama’s choice to have Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor, give the invocation at the Inauguration. “Obama tends to overstate his ability to get people to change their opinions and underestimates the importance of confronting ideological differences,” Frank told me. “It’s one thing to talk to somebody. I talk to more conservatives than anyone, because I’m trying to get legislation passed. But it’s another to make Rick Warren the most honored clergyman in the world.” In California, Warren supported Proposition 8, the successful anti-gay-marriage referendum. “Now, when we fight Warren in California, we are going to hear, ‘Oh, yeah, but Obama picked him for the inaugural.’ He doesn’t deserve that honor. And I don’t want to hear that the other clergyman at the inaugural, Reverend [Joseph] Lowery, supports gay rights. I didn’t vote for a tie in the election.”

Frank worries that Obama’s evenhandedness may prove to be a political liability.

I think we all can relate to that worry. Frank, on the other hand, won’t let that get in the way of what he thinks needs to be done for the economy (he’s chairman of the powerful Committee on Financial Services) and for LGBT rights:

Frank is uncharacteristically hopeful about the future, including gay rights. “We’re going to do three things in Congress,” he told me. “First, a hate-crimes bill—that shouldn’t be too hard. Next, employment discrimination. We almost got that through before, but now we can win even if we add transgender protections, which we are going to do. And finally, after the troops get home from Iraq, gays in the military. The time has come.” [Emphasis mine]

That last point is key. If we’re going to wait until after the troops get home from Iraq, then repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” probably won’t happen for a very long time. But his response to those who claim that this represents some sort of radical agenda was pretty good:

“I do not think that any self-respecting radical in history would have considered advocating people’s rights to get married, join the Army, and earn a living as a terribly inspiring revolutionary platform.”

Barney Frank on Warren Pick

Jim Burroway

December 18th, 2008

Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) just sent out this statement on Obama’s selection of Rick Warren to offer the Inaugural invocation:

I am very disappointed by President-elect Barack Obama’s decision to honor Reverend Rick Warren with a prominent role in his inauguration. Religious leaders obviously have every right to speak out in opposition to anti-discrimination measures, even in the degrading terms that Rev. Warren has used with regard to same-sex marriage. But that does not confer upon them the right to a place of honor in the inauguration ceremony of a president whose stated commitment to LGBT rights won him the strong support of the great majority of those who support that cause.

It is irrelevant that Rev. Warren invited Senator Obama to address his congregation, since he extended an equal invitation to Senator McCain. Furthermore, the President-Elect has not simply invited Rev. Warren to give a speech as part of a series in which various views are presented. The selection of a member of the clergy to occupy this uniquely elevated position has always been considered a mark of respect and approval by those who are being inaugurated.

Today In History: “Something In the Culture”

Jim Burroway

October 13th, 2008

I hadn’t planned on posting another installment, but I just happened to run across this at the library Sunday. It’s from the Winter 1998/9 edition of the Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review. Ten years ago today, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) rose on the House floor to address the chamber on the need to amend the Federal Hate Crimes law to include sexual orientation. A portion of that speech was adapted as an op-ed in the HG&LR.

Recently a very decent young man was brutally murdered by two savage individuals. I am particularly struck by this, because — given the reason that those two mentally and morally deformed individuals murdered that young man — it could have been me. Had I, alone and unarmed, confronted these two thugs, I could have been subjected to the same brutalization that Mr. Shepard was in Wyoming, because his crime was to be a gay man. Something in the culture in which these two young men grew up led them, without an ounce of humanity, without a scrap of decency, to set upon this young man with a weapon, beat him, and leave him not quite dead, but at the point of death, alone, and in a way that added further his torment.

I am encouraged by the number of people who have spoken out against this savagery. I am optimistic, having spoken with leaders on both sides in the House, that we will take an important step and add to the Federal hate crimes legislation a provision that would say that if a young man who happens to be gay, as I happen to be gay, is set upon by thugs in the future who are so consumed with prejudice as to lose any shred of their humanity and kill him, that in appropriate circumstances, if the Attorney General found that certain very stringent requirements were met, and if a Federal presence were necessary, the Federal presence could be there. So, I hope we will add this to the legislation now pending.

But we need to go beyond that. I do not argue that those who have been critical of various proposals that gay and lesbian people have put forward are guilty of murder or of even creating a murderous climate. But this savage murder does call us to the need to improve what we as a society do to protect other young Mr. Shepards from this kind of brutality in the future.

In particular, we have debated on the floor of this House measures whereby Members have sought to penalize secondary schools for setting up programs to that do two things. First, they would offer protection to the young gay men and lesbians who find themselves tormented and abused and sometimes physically assaulted in school. Second, some of these schools would try to teach young people in their teens that brutalizing people because they don’t like their sexual orientation is not acceptable human behavior.

I hope that one thing that will come out of this terrible murder will be a cessation of those efforts to prevent schools from trying in turn to prevent this kind of behavior. It is not random that the terrible murder was committed upon a gay man, and it is shocking that a 21-year-old and a 22-year-old could be so bestial in their attitude toward a fellow human being. These are people not long out of high school themselves. This underlines the importance of allowing educators to deal with prejudice. We talk about teaching values. But when some talk about teaching the value of tolerance, when some talk about condemning violence based on someone’s basic characteristics, we are told we cannot do that. We have been told that we cannot let a school teach acceptance of the gay lifestyle. Think about that: What does non-acceptance mean? If acceptance is interpreted to mean approval, then I don’t care about it. There are bigots in this world whose approval holds no charms for me. But when non-acceptance means not accepting someone’s right to live, we have a serious problem.

If the two murderers who so brutally beat Mr. Shepard and left him to die – if they had been in a school system in which people had taught that gay men and lesbians were human beings with a right to live, maybe this would not have happened. Maybe teaching people to accept differences, not in the sense of becoming their advocates or supporters, but in refraining from this sort of assault, would be a good thing. Ad so we will return to this. I hope we will, in the piece of legislation that’s about to wrap up this session, adopt the hate crimes statute, and I hope we will no longer see in this House efforts to harass and penalize educators who understand the importance of trying to remove from young people’s attitudes the kind of hatefulness that led to this murder.

The Republican Congressional leadership of Trent Lott and Newt Gingrich refused to allow an appropriate amendment to the Hate Crimes law into this bill, so it died for the year. Ten years later, Federal law continues to provide hate crime protections on the basis of race, religion, and national origin, but not sexual orientation.

Also ten years ago today, vigils were held around the country and the giant rainbow flag in San Francisco’s Castro district was lowered to half staff. And Fred Phelps, of the Westboro Baptist Church, announced that his clan would be protesting at the funeral.

See also:
(Oct 16) Today In History: Rest In Peace
(Oct 13) Today In History: “Something In the Culture”
(Oct 12) Today In History: Matthew Wayne Shepard (Dec 1, 1976 – Oct 12, 1998)
(Oct 11) Today In History: The Vigil
(Oct 10) Today In History: Armbands and Scarecrows
(Oct 9) Also Today In History: Details Emerge
(Oct 9) Today In History: “We Just Wanted To Spend Time With Him”
(Oct 8) Today in History: Two Men Arrested
(Oct 7) Also Today In History: Another Assault In Laramie
(Oct 7) Today In History: “Baby, I’m So Sorry This Happened”
(Oct 6) Today In History: Before Matthew Shepard

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