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January 29, 2010
GOP Senate win may make LGBT laws harder to pass
Washington, D.C.--Passing laws for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality through the U.S. Congress got a little harder on January 19 with the election of Scott Brown to the Senate in a special election.
The Republican will take the Massachusetts seat formerly held by Democratic LGBT rights advocate Edward M. Kennedy, who died in office.
Brown’s relationship to the LGBT community is complicated and has, at times, been adversarial.
With the loss, Democrats are not likely to move issues perceived to be difficult or controversial, in addition to the loss of the 60th vote necessary to break a Republican filibuster.
There is little consensus among LGBT strategists on how to deal with this development other than counting on friends in Congress to keep promises, which they have already backed off from since the session began last year.
Scott Brown’s record
Brown succeeded former Human Rights Campaign president Cheryl Jacques in the Massachusetts Senate in 2004.
Before then, as a state representative, Brown publicly criticized Jacques’ decision to have a baby with her partner, saying two women having a baby is “just not normal,” then referred to Jacques’ family responsibilities as “alleged.”
The latter remark caused enough of a stir that Brown apologized days later.
Brown opposes the repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and voted for a failed amendment to overturn the Massachusetts high court’s ruling for marriage. He was also one of only three state senators to vote against repealing a 1913 law that forbade out-of-state couples from marrying there.
In 2007, Brown publicly derided his daughter’s high school classmates who criticized his anti-marriage views on Facebook.
He also railed against the petition of a prisoner to have gender reassignment surgery.
Browns views on other pending federal LGBT equality matters are less clear, but his U.S. Senate campaign was vigorously supported by the anti-gay establishment, including field operation and $50,000 from the National Organization for Marriage, a organizes opposition to marriage equality that has ties to the Mormon Church. NOM was the principal proponent of Proposition 8 in California and the ballot initiative repealing marriage equality in Maine.
The group called Democrat Martha Coakley, a staunch marriage equality supporter, a “radical same-sex marriage activist” in advertisements.
“That’s why NOM has endorsed Scott Brown for U.S. Senate and why we invested $50,000 in independent expenditures in this race over the past several days,” read an e-mail sent by NOM to its supporters.
‘Controversial’ bills won’t move
Democrats are feeling rebuffed by Brown’s victory in a state where they outnumber Republicans three to one. They are working to roll back promises to move bills that might be seen as controversial or risky, especially during this election year.
For Democrats, this usually means progressive social measures such as the LGBT Employment Non-Discrimination Act and repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
LGBT advocates have criticized the majority Democrats and the Obama administration for not passing equality legislation that was promised.
In October, a bill federalizing hate crimes based on LGBT bias became law after 12 years of attempts, but only by attaching it to “must-pass” funding for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Other promised measures have gotten little of Congress’ time and no advocacy from the White House.
The eleven pro-LGBT measures pending in Congress also include repealing the “Defense of Marriage Act” and measures for immigration equality.
Republicans, who typically oppose these measures, can now block their passage in the Senate for no reason other than partisan advantage.
ENDA may pass House but not Senate
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is presently the closest to passing. It is scheduled for House committee debate in February, and, if Democrats feel safe enough to bring it to the floor, will pass easily. The measure includes protections for gender identity and expression.
The Senate is another matter, and the Human Rights Campaign is toning down expectations of passage there, indicating that it will declare victory with House passage this year.
The common wisdom is that repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” will not move at all. It lacks support among military leadership and key legislators, including Democrats, and despite campaign promises, has been met with silence from President Obama.
However, a marker of Democratic commitment to repeal the law will occur when the White House releases its proposed budget next month. It could contain a call for DADT repeal.
Lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin denied a request for comments for this report with a statement through her spokesperson that she “would prefer to talk about this at a later date when the dust settles.”
HRC president Joe Solmonese sent an e-mail to members calling Brown’s election “another obstacle to passing our community’s priorities into law.”
“This week’s election results pose a significant challenge in an already difficult process. The playing field is just not the same, but the goal still is,” Solmonese continued.
Act on Principles, an organization that does independent whip counts of legislators on LGBT issues and posts them on its website, www.actonprinciples.org, shows that ENDA might have a tough time in the Senate, with only 52 committed votes in favor.
‘Don’t ask’ repeal may be difficult
Repeal of the military ban on open gays and lesbians may have a difficult time passing the House, showing only 180 committed votes in favor, three committed against it, 33 unknown, and 219 “leaning” one way or the other.
Those leaning are the ones to be concerned with since the election of Brown, even if House leadership puts the issue on the agenda.
Act on Principles has not yet scored a DADT vote in the Senate.
With the large number of undecided legislators, Solmonese wants LGBT advocates to keep pressure on legislators, especially Democrats.
“Our mission has not changed,” Solmonese said, “and here is our message to all of our elected representatives: Your job has not changed either. 2010 is not only an election year. It is, first and foremost, a year when you are serving us in government.”
Solmonese continued, “To our community, allies, and supporters: our job has not changed. We always knew that we had to hold every official whom we elected accountable for the promises they made.”
HRC spokesperson Brad Luna went further, adding that LGBT advocates have to convince Democrats that “running to the center right” is not in their best interest at election time.
“Our job is to speak the truth to them,” Luna said, “reminding them that moving center right is not what they campaigned on.”
Luna also believes that it is important for the LGBT community to be part of a strong progressive issues coalition that Congress cannot ignore.
“Our community has to scale up and make them accountable [to the campaign promises made] even more than before,” Luna said. “The message to the Democrats needs to be, if you go center right, you go at your own peril.”
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