Once more to the well.
Without rehashing the last weeks' debates over President Obama's relationship with the LGBT rights movement, I wanted to outline a list of legislation that is currently in play, along with recommendations about what we can do to help speed the processes along. There's nothing worse than the feeling that we have no say in the political process, but here are four opportunities to get vocal in a concrete, direct way:
- the Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligation Act
- the Employment Non-Discrimination Act
- the Matthew Shepard Act
- the Military Readiness Enhancement Act
And the best part is, you really can help. All four of these bills are before Congress (or about to be introduced), and your representatives are waiting to hear from you.
As many of you know, the Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligation Act (DPBO) has been introduced to both chambers of Congress, by Lieberman (I-CT) and Collins (R-ME) in the Senate (S.1102) and by Baldwin (D-WI) and Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) in the House (H.R.2517). This is the legislation necessary to grant all the benefits that the President's recent memorandum could not, and credit the President with pledging his support for the DPBO this week:
Now, under current law, we cannot provide same-sex couples with the full range of benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples.
That’s why I’m proud to announce my support for the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act, crucial legislation that will guarantee these rights for all federal employees.
I'm particularly excited about this piece of legislation for a number of reasons: it's relatively high profile given the controversy over the President's recent memorandum, it comes with a healthy slew of co-sponsors in both chambers, and most importantly, its passage will put Congress on a collision course with DOMA. Though the text of the bill is carefully crafted to avoid using the word "spouse" in reference to a domestic partner, its implications conflict with the clear intent of DOMA, not to mention force the question of DOMA's constitutionality.
(Note, for example, that the DPBO refers to the surviving domestic partner as a "widow" or "widower", which shows just how much the bleeding of definitions will mean good things for us in the long run.)
An even better bit of news concerning a much more important piece of legislation: the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), once the source of many woes on the part of LGBT activists and politicians, is on its way. A different ENDA passed the House in late 2007, but the threat of a veto by then-President Bush, combined with no small amount of uproar over its compromised form, left the bill to die a silent death in the Senate. As per Barney Frank, a trans-inclusive version of ENDA is set to be introduced in both chambers next week, and support in both looks good, in no small part thanks to the people left out of the previous version:
"Things have gotten better," Frank said Tuesday. "The transgender community is lobbying hard."
He said a House hearing last year on discrimination encountered by transgender people helped build support for a non-discrimination bill with a gender identity provision.
Like the DPBO, ENDA has bipartisan sponsorship (including, again, Ros-Lehtinen) and should sail easily enough through the House. The Senate is where we're likely to face our biggest battle, but this is another piece of legislation where the threat of a presidential veto is no longer present.
(Shot out to Diego Sanchez, who is an aide to Barney Frank and a vocal transgender activist.)
Speaking of the Senate, we need to get them moving on the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, aka the Matthew Shepard Act. The House passed their version of the bill in late April, but the Senate's version (S.909) is still sitting in the Committee on the Judiciary. Given that the bill has 43 cosponsors in the Senate, this should be as close to a sure thing as we're likely to find this session.
So why the hold-up? It concerns how the bill will likely be presented, with Senate Democrats preferring to position the bill as an amendment to a larger bill:
A Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Senate has planned to pass hate crimes legislation as an amendment for some time. He noted that a standalone bill would be open to amendments and the Senate amendment process is much more open than the House's.
The aide said it was not yet clear what bill the hate crimes legislation would join and that a viable option might not be available before late summer or early fall.
This could indeed protect the Act from unnecessary (and potentially destructive) tampering, but it could also push it so far back that it doesn't get through before August recess.
Then get ready for one of the biggest fights we're likely to have in the next few years: the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2009 is finally coming around the corner. That's right, the House has a bill to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The current version is sponsored by Rep. Tauscher*, with 147 co-sponsors (only one Republican, and if you've read this diary all the way through you can probably guess who). It opens with a set of words I can't wait to hear on the floor of Congress:
To amend title 10, United States Code, to enhance the readiness of the Armed Forces by replacing the current policy concerning homosexuality in the Armed Forces, referred to as ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, with a policy of nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Don't get too excited yet: this bill has been introduced twice before (in 2005 and 2007), and both times languished in the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel, where the current version also sits.
Of course the bigger problem will be in the Senate, where Reid has complained that the proposed repeal has no sponsors (and, somewhat bizarrely, suggests that the solution should be administrative.) However don't abandon hope just yet:
Senator Reid also indicated that he is waiting on the House of Representatives to take action on the bill that was introduced there in March.
"If the House moves on this," he said, "I would be happy to take it up."
Got that?: "If the House moves on this." It's a weak position, but Reid has given us a concrete goal in the fight to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. We need to get that bill out of committee and up for a vote.* - Question for the process-inclined: Tauscher has recently accepted a position as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. Any idea how this will affect sponsorship of the bill and/or the bill itself?
All this legislation is there and ready to be acted upon, but your Congressional representatives have no incentive to act if they're not hearing from you. Given that vehement disagreement tends to prompt more action, you can probably guess that anti-LGBT activists will be working much harder to scuttle all four of these bills.
Don't let them: and don't worry if you think your phone call/letter/email will go unheeded. If your elected officials are people like Frank and Baldwin, it's still important that they hear your support and encouragement; if your elected officials are people like Boenher and DeMint, it's still important that they hear your disagreement with them.
Let the President know that we want him to be proactive in his advocacy for these bills, and that we appreciate his pledged support.
If you're tired of all the complaining about what Obama is or isn't doing; if you're tired of LGBT activists filling up the recent diary list; if you're tired of rants and suppositions and the feeling of political impotence; in short, if you've been reading this blog over the past couple of weeks, you can help set us on the right track by .
Let them know:
I support the Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligation Act
I support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act
I support the Matthew Shepard Act
I support the Military Readiness Enhancement Act
These are not the only goals we have (prepare for the battle over DOMA!), but these are concrete steps we can take to make life a whole lot better for a whole lot of people. So let's get to work!
(cross-posted, with minor edits, at docudharma)
Updates, from the comments:
Senator Gillibrand announced here the other day that she was working with Ted Kennedy's office on introducing a repeal of DADT in the Senate. She also mentioned that she was working with a House colleague on that, though I forget the name.
Check it out, check it out!