Congress considers gay bills
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A trio of bills seeking to advance the rights of LGBT Americans have been introduced on Capitol Hill and are currently making their way through the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. The bills tackle the critical issues of hate crimes, employment non-discrimination and health disparities for LGBT people.
Furthest along is the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, commonly known as the Matthew Shepard Act, which passed the House in April with a vote of 249 to 175. On July 16, the Senate voted to attach its version of an inclusive hate crimes amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill. After the Senate finishes debate on and passes the Defense authorization bill, the legislation will likely move to conference committee where differences will be ironed out.
Chief among these differences is Senate amendment 1615, which adds the death penalty to the provisions of the bill. The amendment was introduced and supported by senators who oppose the Matthew Shepard Act in an effort to derail it. A side-by-side amendment offered by Sen. Ted Kennedy was added to the bill in response. The Kennedy amendment provides for additional restrictions in the use of the death penalty under the hate crimes bill.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been introduced in the House by Rep. Barney Frank and 118 co-sponsors. ENDA adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected characteristics for which workers cannot be fired or discriminated against by their actual or potential employers.
In addition to these, Rep. Tammy Baldwin and a handful of co-sponsors have introduced the Ending Health Disparities for LGBT Americans Act. This bill would comprehensively address a wide range of LGBT health issues, including the urgent need for data collection about LGBT health, research, cultural competence and other training for providers and more. The bill is not expected to be voted on as a stand alone measure, but will likely become part of the larger health care reform process.
Episcopals vote to open ministry
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Despite an opening appeal for restraint from worldwide Anglican Communion leader Archbishop Rowan Williams, clergy and lay leaders at the July 8-17 Episcopal Church USA convention voted to open “any ordained ministry” to gay and lesbian clergy. The measure passed by a significant margin in both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. The measure undermines a moratorium on ordaining gay and lesbian bishops that was adopted at the convention at the behest of Williams three years ago.
The moratorium was the denomination’s uncertain response to the approval of an openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, in 2003. Robinson’s selection sparked a firestorm within the Anglican Communion. As a result, a breakaway faction of conservative Episcopal churches has formed the Anglican Church in North America to separate themselves from the ECUSA’s increasing acceptance of homosexuality.
Reacting to the vote, Susan Russell, president of Integrity, the group for LGBT Episcopalians, said, “It was a tremendous privilege to be a witness to the courage and candor of the bishops who spoke truth to each other and to us — and who called the Episcopal Church to speak our truth to our Anglican Communion brothers and sisters and to the world.
“The truth is we are a church committed to mission — we are a church committed to the full inclusion of all the baptized in that mission — and we are a church committed to creating as broad a place to stand as possible for all who wish to be part of this great adventure of being disciples of Jesus.”