What’s Brewing: Texas Democrats Gene Green, Henry Cuellar support anti-gay amendment

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

Rep. Gene Green

1. Two Democratic congressman from Texas were among those who voted in favor of an anti-gay amendment on the House floor Thursday. The amendment to a Defense appropriations bill, which passed 248-175, reaffirms the Defense of Marriage Act by prohibiting the Pentagon from spending funds in violation of DOMA. The Human Rights Campaign says the amendment is “unnecessary” and called on the Senate “to reject the House’s return to using LGBT Americans as a wedge issue.” All but five Republicans voted in favor of the amendment by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., while all but 19 Democrats voted against it. Two of those 19 Democrats were Rep. Gene Green (Houston, Baytown) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (San Antonio, Laredo, Seguin).

2. In other DOMA-related news, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold the first-ever hearing on legislation that would repeal the 15-year-old anti-gay law “in the coming weeks,” according to an aide for committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, one of the sponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act. Another sponsor, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, said this in response to news that the bill will get a hearing: “If Democrats and Republicans can come together to do what’s right in New York, I know we can do the same in Congress to do what’s right for all of America. Now is the time to act on the federal level.”

3. Here’s another reason why Texas Gov. Rick Perry needs to hurry up and enter the GOP presidential race: Candidates have only until Aug. 1 to sign an anti-gay Iowa group’s pledge called, “The Marriage Vow: A Declaration of Dependence Upon Marriage and Family.” Candidates must sign the pledge to earn an endorsement from the group in the key primary state. Among other things, the pledge says that homosexuality is a choice, that homosexuality is akin to polygamy, and that homosexuality represents a public health risk. Thus far, the only candidate’s who’s signed the pledge — which also calls for banning all forms of pornography — is Michele Bachmann, but we’re pretty sure Perry can’t wait to join her.

—  John Wright

Bills to repeal DOMA introduced in House, Senate

Legislation seeking to overturn 1996 law has little chance of passage, but it arrives to a changing climate on same-sex marriage

LISA KEEN | Keen News Service

When U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, introduced the Respect for Marriage Act in 2009, he conceded there was little chance for passage in the 111th Congress. Absent from the 102 co-sponsors that year was Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the most veteran and influential of the three openly gay members of Congress. He said the bill had “zero” chance of passage. Also missing was then-House Speaker Nancy Peolsi, D-Calif., and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) as co-sponsors, and there was no companion bill in the Senate.

Clearly, something’s changed.

When Nadler reintroduced his bill to the 112th Congress this morning, Frank, Pelosi, and Hoyer were among its 108 co-sponsors.

And the Nadler bill this year is joined by a first-ever companion bill in the Senate, introduced today by Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Dianne Feinstein of California, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Christopher Coons of Delaware, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

What has not changed is the content of the legislation. The new Respect for Marriage Act is “precisely the same” as the last one, noted Nadler spokesman Ilan Kayatsky.

The measures seek to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. DOMA, enacted in 1996, prohibits the federal government from recognizing the legally secured marriages of same-sex couples and provides for states to ignore those marriages as well.

And there is still little likelihood of passage — at least in the Republican-controlled House.

But the legislation arrives to a political climate concerning same-sex marriage that is clearly changing.

The latest independent poll, completed March 1 and involving 1,504 adults nationally, shows –once again— a new high in support for allowing gays to marry. While 46 percent told the Pew Research Center they oppose allowing gays to marry, 45 percent said they favor doing so –a two-point jump in the space of six months. (Nine percent said they were unsure. The margin of error was plus or minus three points.)

A poll sponsored last week by the Human Rights Campaign found that 51 percent oppose DOMA, 34 percent favor it, and 15 percent had no opinion. When asked whether legally married gay couples should be able to obtain specific federal benefits provided to straight couples, 60 percent supported gay spouses being able to obtain Social Security benefits and 58 percent supported health coverage for federal employees’ same-sex spouses.

The HRC poll gave its respondents — 800 registered voters nationwide — two statements and asked which came closer to their point of view about the House decision to defend DOMA in federal court. One choice was: the move diverts taxpayer money to a divisive issue at a time Congress should be focusing on creating jobs and cutting the deficit. The other choice was that Congress was forced to defend the law after President Obama’s administration “failed to do so.” Fifty-four percent chose the former, and 32 percent chose the latter. (The remainder said Neither, Both, or did not respond.)

In a related development, bills were introduced to both chambers last Thursday, March 10, seeking to enable coverage for domestic partners under COBRA.

COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) is the federal law that requires group insurance plans to enable employees and their families to continue paying for their health coverage for a period of time following the loss or change in employment status.

In the Senate, the Equal Access to COBRA Act (S. 563) was re-introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and has no co-sponsors; in the House, HR 1028 was introduced for the first time, by Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-NY, with 45 co-sponsors.

“Current federal laws related to COBRA coverage do not apply to domestic partners or same-sex spouses — even at companies that offer health coverage to domestic partners of employees,” according to a press statement from Boxer’s office. The proposed law, said the statement, would apply to companies that already offer health coverage to domestic partners and their children.

© 2011 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Lawmakers to file DOMA repeal Wednesday

Federal District Judge Joseph Tauro in Massachusetts has ruled — in two separate cases, no less — that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

President Barack Obama has said that DOMA is unconstitutional and the Justice Department, under his administration, will no longer defend it in court.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has said that the House of Representatives will defend DOMA in court since the Obama administration won’t.

And now, a group of five U.S. senators is set to introduce legislation to repeal DOMA.

Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Christopher Coons of Delaware and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut will officially announce their DOMA repeal bill in a press conference at 2 p.m. EST on Wednesday in the Senate Office Building.

Of course, with Republicans in charge of the House already having announced their plans to defend DOMA in court, and a narrow Democratic majority in the Senate, it’s not likely that Obama will get to keep his campaign promise this year. Still, it’s nice to know DOMA repeal is still on the agenda.

—  admin

Reactions to DADT repeal signing

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese:

“Today gay and lesbian patriots serving their country in silence, and thousands more who wish to serve the country they love, can breathe a sigh of relief that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is on its way out. Soon, all service members will be able to serve with the full honesty and integrity the uniform demands.  No more careers will come to an end because of an unjust law.  ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ has weakened our military readiness and is now on its way to the dustbin of history.

“After 17 years of this failed and discriminatory law, a stain has been removed from our nation.  This historic day would not be possible without the leadership of President Obama, Defense Secretary Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen.  In the U.S. House of Representatives, we are grateful to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Rep. Patrick Murphy for their dogged determination. And in the U.S. Senate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Sens. Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins, Kirsten Gillibrand and Mark Udall will go down in history as champions of this national security measure. Through their leadership, they have made our nation more secure and restored honesty and integrity as core values of our military.

“It’s now incumbent on the president and the Pentagon to act expeditiously so that the final nail can be put in the coffin of this unjust and discriminatory law.”

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey:

“We celebrate this historic day, when our country has honored the principles of fairness and justice it holds so dearly. This is a tremendous victory. We thank all those who fought for and supported an end to the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy — they truly are on the right side of history. Seventeen years of witch hunts under this policy have cost thousands of exemplary service members their careers, once again proving there are very personal and costly consequences of discrimination. This cannot end fast enough. Our entire country benefits when fairness prevails, when qualified and patriotic service members no longer have to fear being targeted by their own government, when courageous men and women are able to serve openly and honestly. We thank President Obama for signing this critical legislation and now call upon him as commander in chief, and his top military leaders, to swiftly lead us through to full implementation.”

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis:

“In signing this bill today, President Obama delivered on a defining civil rights measure for our country and for gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members who have been silenced for far too long. Clearly, this is President Obama’s Lyndon Johnson moment in history. A measure of dignity has been restored to thousands of service members on active duty, and to over a million gay veterans who served in silence. This historic moment is about those service members and their service.

“President Obama was decisive and forceful in steering the course as he brought along critical stakeholders, including the Defense Department. Now, it’s on to finishing the job at the Pentagon. Troops remain at risk under the law. We respectfully renew our call for Secretary Gates to use his authority to suspend all ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ investigations and discharges during this limbo period. Until there is certification and until the 60-day implementation period must be wrapped up no later than the first quarter of 2011.

“This victory would not have been possible without several tenacious Congressional leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy. In the Senate we saw remarkable determination by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Chairman Carl Levin and Senators Lieberman, Mark Udall, Gillibrand, Collins and so many others.”

—  John Wright

WATCH: A new message from Lady Gaga to the U.S. Senate on ‘don’t ask don’t tell’

The video was apparently recorded Thursday night and posted early Friday morning on Lady Gaga’s official YouTube channel. Looks like she may have sent out this Tweet while recording the video:

Gaga addresses her 7 ½-minute video message to her fellow Americans, to the Senate and specifically to Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Jeff Sessions of Alabama. She notes that 14,000 servicemembers have been discharged under DADT since it was passed in 1993.

“In short, not only is the law unconstitutional, but it’s not even being properly or fairly enforced by the government,” Gaga says. “Our fight is a continuum of the ever-present equal rights movement. Every day we fight to abolish laws that harbor hatred and discriminate against all people, laws that infringe on our civil liberties.

“I am here to be a voice for my generation, not the generation of the senators who are voting, but for the youth of this country, the generation that is affected by this law and whose children will be affected,” Gaga says. “We are not asking you to agree with or approve the moral implications of homosexuality. We’re asking you to do your job, to protect the Constitution. As Majority Leader Harry Reid said, anyone who is willing to fight for this country should have the same civil opportunity to do so as anyone else. It’s my belief that no one person is more valuable than another.”

Gaga goes on to talk about some of the veterans discharged under DADT she’s met through the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

“The most shocking discovery for me was to hear them all say how much they miss serving and protecting our nation, how they joined the Armed Forces because they believe in America,” Gaga says. “Senators, when you’re sending your men and women into war, when you’re sending our wives, husbands, sons and daughters into combat, will you honor their service? Will you support repealing this law on Tuesday and pledge to them that no American’s life is more valuable than another?”

At the end of the video Gaga calls the Capitol Switchboard and asks for the office of Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York. After a dozen or so rings, she gets a busy signal. Then she tries Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, whose voice mailbox is full.

“I will not stop calling until I reach them and I can leave them this message,” Gaga says. “I am a constituent of the senator. My name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, also known as Lady Gaga. I’m calling to ask the senator to vote with Sens. Harry Reid and Carl Levin to repeal ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ and oppose John McCain’s shameless filibuster. We need to do this for our gay and lesbian soldiers and finally repeal ‘don’t ask don’t tell.’

“Try calling after 9 a.m. tomorrow morning,” Gaga says. “I’ll be on the phone, too. Thank you. God bless.”

The number for the Capitol switchb0ard is 202-224-3121.

—  John Wright