New House Bill Seeks To Make LGBT Rights Abroad A State Department Priority

Rep. John Tierney has sponsored a bill to increase the State Department’s focus on LGBT rights. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

WASHINGTON — A bill introduced in the House of Representatives Wednesday would bolster the State Department’s ability to fight discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals abroad, its bipartisan sponsors say.

The bill would direct the department to make LGBT rights a foreign policy priority, develop a strategy to prevent LGBT discrimination and appoint a special envoy to handle those efforts.

The envoy would help coordinate activities between the State Department and other governments, non-governmental organizations and — if appropriate — the private sector to address LGBT discrimination globally, Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), the bill’s primary sponsor, told The Huffington Post.

The legislation would also require the State Department to continue addressing LGBT human rights violations in its annual Report on Human Rights.

The department has increasingly turned its attention to LGBT rights under President Barack Obama. In 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech in which she linked the fight for LGBT rights around the world to other historic human rights struggles.

Tierney said that harrowing stories of discrimination in Russia, Uganda and elsewhere helped inspire the bill, as did a conversation with Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). Markey has sponsored a similar bill in the Senate and was looking for someone to introduce companion legislation in the House.

The State Department did not immediately return a request for comment.

Unlike Markey’s bill, Tierney’s has bipartisan support: Reps. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) and Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) have signed on as co-sponsors. Hanna has supported LGBT rights before — he signed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to rule in favor of marriage rights for same-sex couples — while Gibson is a newer arrival to the cause. In the previous Congress, the Human Rights Campaign gave Gibson a zero percent legislative rating. But last year, he announced he was supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would institute federal workplace protections for LGBT Americans.

“On our best day, other countries want to be like us, and for that reason it is crucial that we lead by example with our founding principles of human dignity, freedom, and equal protection,” Gibson said in a statement.

Tierney said he was pleased to be joined by his colleagues from the other side of the aisle. “We’re encouraged by the notion that people think it’s time we had a strategy, we had a plan, and we worked internationally to start it moving in the same direction we’re moving so well in in this country,” he said.

Both Tierney and Gibson are facing openly gay challengers this election cycle.

As public approval in the U.S. has shifted in favor of marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples, some in the LGBT rights movement have turned their attention abroad, where the situation is often more dire. Russia, for example, drew international condemnation last year over a new law prohibiting pro-LGBT “propaganda,” which advocates said would make it difficult for anyone to live as an openly LGBT person. The Human Rights Campaign, along with several other LGBT and human rights groups, has endorsed the congressional bill.

Last year, the Human Rights Campaign made waves in some circles when it announced that it was launching its own division devoted entirely to issues abroad. The funding of the program was of concern to some commentators: It was backed by foundations linked to hedge fund billionaires Daniel Loeb and Paul Singer. The latter, a prominent GOP donor and supporter of gay rights, made a small part of his fortune through “vulture funds,” which profit by purchasing the debt of financially troubled countries and then going to court to extract repayment.

Some also expressed fears that the Human Rights Campaign’s effort could bring unwanted attention and perceived U.S. ties to local advocates in countries where being gay can put someone in danger — a criticism that Tierney said should not be applied to his bill.

“We’re not getting involved in other countries. We’re getting involved in our State Department — in our diplomatic approach to things. We expect that it’s going to be handled by seasoned and trained diplomats, who are going to make sure that they deal with this the appropriate way,” Tierney said.

“But we want them to be able to have a coordinated effort across our government,” he said, “so that when we set foreign policy goals and we have conversations from our State Department to people in other countries, they know that this is a serious priority with us.”

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US: Democrats in Wisconsin ask state to cease defence of same-sex marriage ban

The letter asks Governor Scott Walker to stop defending the ban Share on WhatsApp 0 reader comments

Democrats in the US state of Wisconsin have asked the state’s Attorney General and Governor to cease their defence of a law banning same-sex couples from marrying.

US District Judge Barbara Crabb struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban on Friday 6 June, leading to some counties issuing marriage licences immediately, and allowing more than 500 gay and lesbian couples to wed.

However, after Attorney General JB Van Hollen appealed, on Friday 13 June Crabb agreed to halt her ruling, stopping all new marriages until the appeal concludes. Last Thursday, Van Hollen finally filed his appeal. 

Now 15 state senators have written to Van Hollen and Governor Scott Walker, urging them to cease their defence of the ban, stating that they are wasting taxpayer money in doing so.

According to reports, a spokesperson for the Van Hollen states that he is doing his job in defending the ban.

Arguments in the case will be heard on 13 August in Chicago.

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US: Colorado Attorney General asks state Supreme Court to halt same-sex marriages

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers is asking the state Supreme Court to halt same-sex marriages Share on WhatsApp 3 reader comments

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers has asked the Colorado Supreme Court to stop same-sex marriages in the state until they rule on his appeal of a lower court’s ruling that found Colorado’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

District Judge C. Scott Crabtree overturned Colorado’s same-sex marriage ban last week, but immediately put his own ruling on hold until it is backed-up by a court with greater authority. 

A judge also ruled last week in a lawsuit Suthers brought against Hillary Hall, a rouge Boulder county clerk who has been issuing same-sex marriage licenses, that Hall had the right to issue the licenses for the time being.

In response to these rulings, Suthers is asking the state Supreme Court to halt the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses until they review Crabtree’s ruling, which would help decide whether to lift Crabtree’s self-imposed hold on his own decision.

After asking the state Supreme Court to rule, Suther’s said:

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US: Arizona state and gay couples want judge to rule on same-sex marriage ban without trial

The couples are challenging Arizona’s same-sex marriage ban Share on WhatsApp 0 reader comments

Both the state of Arizona and gay couples suing it over its same-sex marriage ban, have asked a judge to rule in the case without a trial.

Attorneys for both sides spoke to US District Judge John Sedwick on Monday, asking him to rul based on arguments which will be filed by both sides soon, reports the Associated Press.

The gay and lesbian couples suing the state argue that the equal protection and due process clauses provided by the US Constitution are violated by the ban, as they are unable to marry.

The case will be heard following appeals from Idaho and Nevada at the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, in cases on those states.

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Australia: State voids trans man’s marriage over ‘inconsistent’ documents

Paige Phoenix had his marriage voided Get the latest LGBT headlines in your inbox with our free daily newsletter! Join Share on WhatsApp 30 reader comments

An Australian trans man and his wife have had their marriage invalidated, because the state of Victoria won’t update his birth certificate.

Recording artist Paige Phoenix is legally recognised as male by the Australian government, and was allowed to marry his female partner because he had a valid passport indicating his gender.

However, despite federal recognition, the state of Victoria requires a trans person to undergo surgery before it will amend their birth certificate.

As Phoenix has a serious underlying medical condition he is not able to have surgery, and is stuck with some documents referring to him as male, and some female.

A cross-check from Victoria’s Births, Deaths and Marriages wrongly identified him as a woman from his birth certificate, and as same-sex marriages are illegal in Australia, it was voided.

He told the Canberra Times: “Those sorts of inconsistencies are not just theoretical paperwork inconveniences – they ground themselves in very real impacts for people like me.

“When we’re forced to do things like go under the knife and have life-threatening surgery in order to have our sex recognised, it’s ridiculous.

“Culturally, we have such an emphasis on defining gender by genitals but if you walked past me on the street you wouldn’t know that I hadn’t been born male. I’m not female and I should have the right to have my documents reflect that.”

Ivan Hinton of Australian Marriage Equality said in a statement: “It is devastating that a State law can intervene to effectively terminate a loving marriage.

“Marriage is the union of two people who have chosen to build a life together based on love, commitment, respect and hope for a future. It isn’t about gender.”

“It is ridiculous that a state institution ignores Federal documents that recognise the opposite sexes of this couple while attempting to enforce Federal marriage laws, currently opposed to same-sex couples marrying.”

“By a single act by Federal parliament this situation could be resolved. Equal marriage would remove this issue entirely and provide dignity for all Australians.”

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US: Massachusetts to cover transgender medical care in state health plan

Massachusetts grants insurance coverage for gender reassignment surgery Get the latest LGBT headlines in your inbox with our free daily newsletter! Join 0 reader comments

Massachusetts has become the third state to cover all trans-related medical care in its government health plan.

Joining Vermont and California, Massachusetts now includes gender reassignment surgery as a standard benefit under its government health plan.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick moved to bar private insurers from denying coverage for gender reassignment surgery and other treatments necessary for transgender patients.

Patrick said: “I am proud to be part of a Commonwealth that puts equality as its top priority.

“Massachusetts is a leader in health care, where we make the tough decisions for the good of our communities, and where discrimination, of any kind, will not be tolerated.”

Bennett H. Klein, of the Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, said: “This announcement is really historic because I don’t think there is a state that has announced in one fell swoop, this comprehensively, that medical care for transgender people is essential.

“It’s not very often that we see moments we can point to as groundbreaking… and this is one of them.”

The Governor’s administration will move for similar reforms within the Group Insurance Commission, which covers the medical costs for thousands of state and municipal employees and their dependants.

Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, complained: “In what other case does the medical profession go along with a mental disorder to the extent of radical surgery on the body instead of treating the underlying mental health issue?

“Instead of giving them the treatment they’re demanding, we should give them the treatment they need. That’s the ethical responsibility for health providers.”

The American Medical Association maintains: “The only effective treatment of

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US: Washington state to convert most domestic partnerships to marriages on Monday

Most remaining domestic partnerships will be converted to marriages 0 reader comments

Washington state will convert thousands of existing same-sex domestic partnerships into marriages on Monday.

The state – which introduced domestic partnerships in 2007, and same-sex marriage in 2012 – has decided to discontinue domestic partnerships entirely, following a substantial drop in use.

On Monday, all existing partnerships in which at least one partner is currently under the age of 62 will be converted to marriages, and new partnerships will also be closed to those under the age of 62. Domestic partnerships will remain available to seniors.

There are currently more than 6,500 domestic partnerships, most of which will be converted.

Monisha Harrell, the chair of Equal Rights Washington whose own partnership is due to be converted, told the Seattle Times: “We’ve been building our lives together and the law has finally caught on.”

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said the partnerships were only ever intended as a half-measure, adding: “There will be no second-class recognition of gay and lesbian relationships. There will be marriage.”

Of the bureaucratic challenge of the en masse change in status, Pam Floyd, corporations director in the Secretary of State’s Office said: “We know there are scenarios we’ve not thought of. I’m sure we’ll come up against those and will handle them on a case-by-case basis. This is the first time we’ve had to confront something like this.”

The move marks the final part of the state’s equal marriage legislation, passed in 2012 with 52% of the vote.

In the UK, it was announced this week that civil partnerships will remain as an option for same-sex couples despite the introduction of same-sex marriage, but that they would not be opened up to opposite-sex couples.

The move followed a consultation into the future of civil partnerships, but no clear consensus could be reached.

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