LGBT candidates, allies win big in Texas primary

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Out JP candidate Sara Martinez and former City Councilwoman Pauline Medrano, surrounded by supporters, both made it into runoffs in Dallas County. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Openly LGBT candidates and the community’s allies swept the Texas Democratic primary Tuesday, winning the party’s nomination while others made it into runoffs.

In Dallas County, out justice of the peace precinct 5, place 1 candidate Sara Martinez led in the crowded race after early voting. She secured a place in the runoff alongside Melissa Bellan. Other out candidate John McCall came in fourth in the race.

Out candidate Susan Lopez-Craig came in third in the precinct 5 constable’s race. Incumbent Beth Villarreal and Michael Orozco will face off in a runoff.

In the race for county treasurer, former Dallas Councilwoman and LGBT ally Pauline Medrano and Bennie Elnora Brown came out on top to make it into the runoff.

Queer state Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, easily won re-election, defeating her only Democratic challenger, Rey Sepulveda. Gonzalez previously told Dallas Voice she expected a challenger based on her outspokenness on women’s and LGBT rights. She’s one of five openly gay state House candidates, but the only one with a contested primary. With no Republican challenger in November, she’ll serve another term.

—  Anna Waugh

Are political leaders really paying any attention?

Sen. John Cornyn

Spend just a little time paying attention to the news coming out of Washington, D.C. — or any state capitol, or any city hall — and you’ll probably wonder, as I do, if anyone in the “halls of power” actually pays any attention to anything their constituents says — outside, of course, of the polls that tell them what they need to say to get re-elected.

Yesterday, Dallas Voice reader Ron Heath of Fort Worth reinforced my belief that the “leaders” don’t pay any attention when he forwarded to me an email he had received in response after writing to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, one of two Republicans that represent Texas in Congress.

Heath had written to his senator about DOMA — the Defense of Marriage Act. Numerous lawsuits have been filed against DOMA, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages in any way, including those same-sex marriages conducted in jurisdictions where they legally recognized. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama instructed the Department of Justice not to continue to defend portions of DOMA in court, after which Republicans in the House of Representatives promptly decided to hire their own lawyers and pay them to defend DOMA.

Also, the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote today on the Respect for Marriage Act, which would effectively repeal DOMA and give legally married same-sex couples the federal benefits, privileges and responsibilities they have so far been denied.

Ron Heath was encouraging Sen. Cornyn to vote in favor of repealing DOMA. Sen. Cornyn, or whoever reads his correspondence, apparently wasn’t paying any attention. Read Cornyn’s response to Heath after the jump:

—  admin

Senate confirms gay U.S. attorney for W. Texas

The U.S. Senate confirmed Robert Lee Pitman (right), an openly gay man, as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas on Monday.

Pitman is believed to be the first openly gay U.S. attorney in Texas, but he is not the first in the nation. Nominated by President Barack Obama, Pitman will serve as chief federal prosecutor for a 68-county region.

Interestingly, Pitman’s nomination was supported by anti-gay Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Pitman is a Fort Worth native and graduate of Trinity Valley School. Read a detailed profile here.

—  John Wright

WATCH: The DOMA debate 15 years before Sen. Cornyn skipped Wednesday’s hearing on repeal

Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the Judiciary Committee, skipped Wednesday’s hearing on the Respect for Marriage Act.

ThinkProgress has posted the below compilation of some of the hateful comments made on the House floor during debate of the Defense of Marriage Act before it was passed in 1996. The point is to highlight the sea change that has taken place in America since then on LGBT equality and same-sex marriage — which is underscored by the reluctance among Republicans today to use it as a wedge issue. On Wednesday, ThinkProgress notes, only two Republican senators showed up for the committee hearing on the repeal of DOMA, and only one spoke up against the Respect for Marriage Act.  One of those who spoke in support of DOMA 15 years ago, as shown in the video, was Texas Congressman Tom DeLay, then the GOP whip, who warned that “attacks on the institution of marriage will only take us further down the road of social deterioration.” Fast forward to Wednesday, when one of the GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who didn’t show up for the hearing was Texas’ John Cornyn, who once suggested in the draft of a speech that same-sex marriage would lead to man-box turtle marriage. Things have indeed changed, even in Texas.

—  John Wright

Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t ever forget the anti-gay bigots who voted against repealing DADT

The impending end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” doesn’t change the fact that Texas’ two anti-gay senators, Republicans John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, voted against repealing the policy. The beauty of the standalone bill to repeal DADT, aside from the fact it had enough votes, was that it forced lawmakers to take a position on the policy itself. On Saturday, Cornyn, Hutchison and 29 others went on record as supporting injustice, dishonesty and discrimination.

It’s truly sad that both our senators would vote to harm our national security during a time of war by continuing to discharge valuable servicemembers for no good reason. Indeed, those who voted against DADT repeal will go down in history as being on the wrong side of it, and we should never, ever forget that.

Which is apparently why GetEQUAL Texas is moving forward with plans for protests/celebrations outside Hutchison’s offices around Texas on Tuesday. From Facebook:

GetEQUAL Texas will go forward with their planned protest of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison scheduled for Tuesday, December 22 at noon in front of the Senator’s offices in Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. The group is celebrating Saturday’s repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, but recognizes the importance of highlighting the oppressive vote of Ms. Hutchison on a measure which had the support of over 70% of Americans in several major polls.

Please join GetEQUAL Texas and other community members and allies to celebrate this victory by telling Kay Bailey Hutchison that “Enough is Enough.”

“We will no longer sit by and allow votes like that of Sen. Hutchison on the repeal measure to go unnoticed. Although the repeal measure passed the Senate with a filibuster proof majority, Senator Hutchison attempted to silence those willing to defend the rights and freedoms of the United States with their lives by voting against the repeal. We will not be silenced. The freedom of speech is guaranteed to all Americans, not just those who the Senator prefers.” stated Michael Diviesti an Army veteran and state coordinator for GetEQUAL Texas.

Both Texas Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn voted against repeal, which passed with a filibuster proof majority in the Senate.

—  John Wright

John Cornyn calls DADT repeal ‘a disgrace’

John Cornyn, shown wearing his favorite hat, is a disgrace to Texas.

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn thinks it’s a disgrace that gay servicemembers will no longer have to lie about who they are. Cornyn, perhaps best known to the LGBT community for equating us to “box turtles,” further cemented his legacy as an anti-gay bigot when he twice voted against repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” today — then released the below statement calling the measure’s passage “a disgrace.” If there was ever any doubt that Cornyn was blatantly pandering when he accepted an award from Log Cabin Republicans earlier this year, it was thoroughly erased today. This man is not, nor will he ever be, our friend. Here’s his statement:

“With three of the four military service chiefs expressing clear reservations over the proposed repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, today’s vote shows blatant disregard for the opinions of those who know our military best. With our troops engaged in combat overseas, now is not the time to increase the level of stress on our Armed Forces through such a dramatic policy change. It is a disgrace that this latest item from the liberal legislative wish-list is being jammed through at the expense of military readiness.”

For the record, Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison also twice voted against DADT repeal today. Here’s her statement:

“After speaking with military personnel and former leaders of our armed services, I remain very concerned about how repealing this policy could negatively impact unit cohesion and overall troop readiness – especially during a time of war. Therefore, I did not support a repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy.”

—  John Wright

Senate votes to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

John Wright  |  Online Editor

In a landmark victory for gay rights, the U.S. Senate gave final approval Saturday afternoon to a bill repealing the military’s 17-year-old ban on open service.

The bill, which passed the House earlier in the week, cleared the Senate by a margin of 65-31. It now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature before the process of implementing a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” can begin.

This morning, the Senate voted 63-33 to cut off debate on DADT repeal, a defining procedural move that virtually ensured the bill’s passage this afternoon. As expected, Texas Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison both voted against advancing DADT repeal.

Six Republicans joined 45 Democrats and two Independents to provide the 60-vote supermajority needed to cut off debate. The six Republicans were Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Mark Kirk of Illinois and George Voinovich of Ohio. No Democrats voted against advancing the bill, but Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., did not vote.

“This vote represents an historic step forward for this country, and it will very likely be a life-changing moment for gay and lesbian troops,” said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United and a former multi-lingual Army interrogator who was discharged under DADT.

Nicholson added that while implementing DADT repeal will take some time, “those who defend our freedom while living in fear for their careers will finally breathe a sigh of relief tonight, and those who have fallen victim to this policy in years past will finally begin to see true closure and redemption on the horizon.”

Repealing the policy will mean that for the first time in this history of the U.S., gays, lesbians and bisexuals can serve openly in the military. More than 13,500 servicemembers have been discharged under DADT since it became law in 1993.

In the wake of the initial vote this morning, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network called on Defense Secretary Robert Gates to immediately suspend all investigations and discharges under DADT.

Under the bill, implementation of DADT repeal won’t begin until 60 days after Obama, Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that eliminating the policy won’t harm the military’s readiness.

“Until the President signs the bill, until there is certification, and until the 60-day Congressional period is over, no one should be investigated or discharged under this discriminatory law,” said SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis. “Even with this historic vote, service members must continue to serve in silence until repeal is final. Certification and the 60-day Congressional requirement must be wrapped up no later than the first quarter of 2011. The bottom line: for now, gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members must remain cautiously closeted.”

The Human Rights Campaign issued this statement:

“Today, America lived up to its highest ideals of freedom and equality. Congress recognized that all men and women have the right to openly serve their country,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “Plenty of people had already planned the funeral for this legislation. Today, we pulled out a victory from what was almost certain defeat just a few days ago. We are grateful to President Obama, Majority Leader Reid and Sens. Lieberman, Collins and countless others for their dogged determination to repeal DADT.

“This has been a long fought battle, but this failed and discriminatory law will now be history,” added Solmonese. “Congress now joins the majority of our troops and the American public in the common sense belief that on the battlefield, it does not matter whether a service member is lesbian, gay or straight — what matters is that a service member gets the job done. The President can now fulfill his promise and sign this repeal legislation into law. After signing this legislation, we call on the President and Secretary of Defense to act expeditiously to complete the steps necessary to implement final repeal.”

—  John Wright

John Cornyn to vote for DADT repeal?

Sen. John Cornyn

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn’s decision to accept an award from Log Cabin Republicans — the gay GOP group — in October was likely designed primarily to drum up votes and money in advance of the November mid-terms. And it may even have worked. But who knows, maybe we’ve also been a little too hard on our junior senator. Maybe, just maybe (but we doubt it), Cornyn is starting to warm up to the gays. And could you really blame him after Log Cabin sang “Happy Birthday” to his freakin’ wife?

Anyhow, we can’t seem to get a response from Cornyn’s spokesman, Kevin McLaughlin, about where he stands on standalone legislation to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell,” which is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate on Saturday. But we do know that Cornyn DID NOT VOTE last week when the Senate blocked a Defense Authorization bill that contained DADT repeal. McLaughlin won’t tell us why Cornyn didn’t vote or where he may have been (at the dentist?), and now we can’t help but wonder: Was he trying to avoid the issue? Does he have mixed feelings about DADT repeal? Is he even a potential yes vote on Saturday? Yeah, right.

Obviously Cornyn is aware of polls showing that nearly eight in 10 Americans support DADT repeal. And given recent polling numbers from Texas on other LGBT issues, we doubt support for repeal is much lower here, even though some might have you believe that.

A while back, McLaughlin issued a statement saying Cornyn felt there were more important priorities for the lame duck session than repealing DADT. Note that the statement didn’t say outright that Cornyn opposes repeal:

“There are a handful of time sensitive issues that must be addressed during lame duck,” the statement said. “A continuing resolution to fund the government, the medicare reimbursement rate also known as the ‘doc fix,’ and preventing every American from incurring a massive tax increase on the first of the year just to name a few. Sen. Cornyn believes these things should be the focus of the lame duck session.”

Two of the issues mentioned in Cornyn’s statement — Bush-era tax cuts and the “doc fix” — have now passed the Senate. Meanwhile, the omnibus spending bill containing government funding was abruptly pulled from the floor last night due to opposition over earmarks ($16 million worth of which were inserted by Cornyn). Now, the Senate is expected to vote today on a short-term resolution that would fund the government until Feb. 18.

In June, Cornyn said he didn’t believe the Senate should act on DADT repeal until the Pentagon study was complete. Then, after the study was released and showed strong support for DADT repeal, he issued the above statement. So, we’re just wondering, what will be his new excuse? At least his counterpart, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, has the guts to take a position and state it for the record.

—  John Wright

Texas senators go quiet on DADT repeal

Dallas Log Cabin Republicans President Rob Schlein, left, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison

Dave Guy-Gainer, a local board member for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, reported Monday night:

“Well I tried again to meet with Senator Hutchison or her staff. The Dallas number rang busy all day Friday. So, I tried their fax and it went thru. I proposed an establish communications’ meeting with myself and four other, major Dallas leaders. It’s Monday nite and I didn’t hear squat back. Guess she isn’t interested in representing us at all.”

Dallas Voice also contacted the offices of both Hutchison and Sen. John Cornyn on Monday to find out where they stand on the standalone measure to repeal DADT. But as of this morning, we had received no response — not even from Cornyn spokesman Kevin McLaughlin, who normally at least acknowledges our existence. After all, dealing with the media is part of McLaughlin’s taxpayer-funded job.

We also never heard back from McLaughlin about why Cornyn missed last week’s failed cloture vote on the Defense Authorization Act, to which DADT repeal was attached. (Hutchison voted against closure, joining the Republican filibuster that blocked the bill.)

This morning we contacted Rob Schlein, president of the Dallas chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, to find out whether he’d had any contact with the two senators’ offices about DADT repeal.

Schlein said he has not but is pretty sure they will vote against it.

“I am going to say that I wouldn’t suspect that they would support it, just because that’s been their history,” Schlein said. “I really don’t know, but it won’t surprise me if they both vote against it. You’ve got to remember that part of the senators’ job is to vote their constituency. I know the polls show the majority of the nation supports repeal, but I’m sure that in Texas, the numbers are a little bit different.”

Schlein added that their votes aren’t really that important, because there’s enough Republican support to pass DADT repeal in the Senate. He again blamed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, for failing to pass DADT repeal sooner.

“The more interesting question is, will Reid put the bill on the floor without sabotaging it?” Schlein said. “If the process is right, if Reid doesn’t play any more games and he doesn’t attach any unrelated amendments like the DREAM Act, I think it will pass.”

If you’d like to try to contact the senators yourself, Hutchison is at 202-224-5922 and Cornyn is at 202-224-2934.

—  John Wright

DADT update: Discharged vets file lawsuit; standalone repeal bill up to 40 sponsors

Mike Almy, a highly trained communications officer who served in the Air Force for 13 years, is one of three plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Three veterans discharged under “don’t ask don’t tell” filed a lawsuit earlier today against the government (read the filing here). The lawsuit brought by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network seeks reinstatement as well as a ruling declaring the 17-year-old policy unconstitutional and unenforceable anywhere. And needless to say, the lawsuit is aimed in large part at putting pressure on Congress to repeal the 17-year-old policy during the lame duck session. The Associated Press reports:

The legal action came four days after the U.S. Senate for the second time this year blocked a military spending bill that also would have repealed the 17-year-old ban on openly gay troops.

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., have introduced a standalone measure, but it’s uncertain if it will be brought for a vote before the Senate and House adjourn for the holidays.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network director Aubrey Sarvis said the lawsuit was meant as a warning to lawmakers that if they don’t act to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the courts could step in and order an integration timetable that is less to the Pentagon’s liking.

“If the Senate fails to act in the lame duck session, we are prepared to litigate this aggressively,” said Sarvis, whose group coordinated the lawsuit and prepared it with lawyers from a private law firm.

“From my perspective, this is the first shot over the bow,” he said.

Meanwhile, the standalone bill that would repeal DADT now has 40 Senate co-sponsors, but only one of them is a Republican, and that’s Collins. A vote on the bill could come later this week or early next week, assuming the Senate sticks around that long.

We’ve contacted the offices of Texas Republican Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn to inquire about how they plan to vote on the bill, as if we don’t know already. But as of this post, we had received no response. Hey, anyone planning a sit-in?

—  John Wright