Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Status of LGBT Rights Bills in Congress

The Washington Blade has done an extensive report, interviewing Rep. Barney Frank and more, on the status of several different LGBT rights bills making their way through Congress and when they may actually hit the chambers' floors for voting.

The effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will likely come next year as an amendment to the Defense Department spending bill, rather than through a standalone bill, according to gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

Frank said in an interview with the Blade that repealing the 1993 law barring gays from serving openly in the military would happen as part of the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill.

“The House will take up and the Senate will take up ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal,” he said. “That will again, like hate crimes, even more so, will have to be done, I believe, in the context of the defense authorization. You can’t do the standalone bill. It belongs in the defense authorization.”
Currently, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) sponsors the standalone version of legislation in the House, but there is no equivalent for the Senate.

David Stacy, HRC’s senior public policy advocate, noted that Congress enacted “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1993 as part of a defense authorization bill, so repealing the law via the same vehicle would mirror the process.

So look for Congress to take on DADT in the summer of 2010.


"Action on other pro-LGBT legislation seems more imminent," reports the Blade. "Frank said Congress could advance the Employment Non-Discrimination Act . . . in the near future."

Frank, sponsor the the House version of ENDA, says the bill is in good shaped and headed to the House Education & Labor Committee would mark up ENDA before year’s end and then will hit the floor for a vote in February and then to Senate voting in Spring.

Allison Herwitt, legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, is more optimistic and believes it could all happen before the end of the year.

Frank has concerns though on obtaining the necessary 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster for ENDA and DADT.


This bill would provide partner benefits to LGBT federal employees.
“That one I’m the most confident is going to become law because I think you have Senate support for it — enough to get to the 60” votes needed to overcome a filibuster, Frank said.

Lieberman is sponsor of the Senate version of the legislation while Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the only out lesbian in Congress, is sponsoring the House version of the bill. Baldwin was recently quoted in The Hill as saying she “absolutely” believes there are enough votes to pass the bill in the House.
Herwitt believes this bill can be taken up along with ENDA.

“The critical question is, given the Republicans getting worse and worse on LGBT issues, whether we’ll get any Republicans voting,” Frank said. “I assume we would have safe senators — [Sen. Olympia] Snowe and [Sen. Susan] Collins, maybe [Sen. George] Voinovich or one or two others — but that’s the key.”


This standalone bill, if passed, would allow LGBT citizens to sponsor a foreign partner for residency.

Immigration advocates hope provisions can be added as part of comprehensive immigration reform that are equal to UAFA.
Steve Ralls, spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said his organization is pushing for inclusion of the provision in immigration reform legislation that Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are expected to introduce later this year.

“They are still operating on a timeline of introduction around the end of the year,” Ralls said. “All indications that we have so far is that it’s probably late December, early January in terms of introduction of an actual bill.”


The full-DOMA repeal, which has 104 sponsors, was introduced by Rep. Jerrold, Nadler. There is no Senate equivalent, though Sen. Russ Feingold has been approached. No hearings or markups have been scheduled.

“I think there’s three or four gay rights bills that are cued up,” said John Doty, a Nadler spokesperson. “The Respect for Marriage Act is a little bit further down that list. It hasn’t been talked about as long or debated as long … as the other bills.”
Frank is not a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act and said he’s not optimistic about the bill’s chances because “marriage is the toughest of these issues.”

“That’s why I do not see any chance of any success on marriage in the Congress this year,” he said. “Neither does anyone else, by the way, no matter what people pretend to make people feel better. But that’s why we’re focusing on these other issues.”


This bill, introduced by Rep. Pete Stark, would restrict federal funding to states that have adoption restrictions, including those that bar same-sex couples from adopting. Frank intends to sign on as co-sponsor, but right now the bill has none.

Frank's optimistic, but - “Even people from certain states who don’t agree with that policy will be reluctant to vote to deny money to their states. Plus, you have Republican opposition in general. Remember, the Republicans are now almost monolithically against us.”

“I think this bill needs to be seen and viewed positively, most importantly, by the child welfare professionals and have the support of the leading child welfare and children’s rights organizations,” Herwitt said.

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