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While most of the Washington area was checking the time for the next snowball fight or their fridge to see how much milk was left during this past week’s double-snowstorm, the federal government – by and large – was closed for business, with the Office of Personnel Management closing federal offices in the capital area for most of the past week.
Unfortunately, the government slowdown meant that movement on any issues – LGBT equality issues included – was hampered.
The scheduled Senate hearing on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which was to take place on Feb. 11, was canceled. As of Friday afternoon, Feb. 12, a spokesperson from the Senate Armed Services Committee said that the hearing had not yet been rescheduled and noted that the upcoming hearing schedule for the committee was quite full.
The cancellation did not, however, stop Servicemembers United from circulating a legislative proposal that would integrate the immediate legislative repeal sought by LGBT advocates and the review time on the implementation of a repeal sought by the Pentagon. The proposal sets forth what it calls the “Set End-date/Delayed Implementation” (SEDI) model for the repeal.
The proposal states, “This includes introducing legislative language now to lock in repeal according to the [SEDI] model, preferably by incorporating that language into the Chairman’s mark of the FY2011 National Defense Authorization Bill. The initial work of the Pentagon Working Group can proceed while a [SEDI] repeal plan works its way through the legislative process.”
Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said in a statement, “In light of the historic testimony of Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates last week, it is now clear that this plan will be the best way to accomplish full legislative repeal and to get that locked in this year.”
Those looking to maintain the momentum for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” weren’t the only ones trying to keep LGBT equality efforts moving forward despite the storm.
On Feb. 9, a group of lawmakers hoping to ensure that immigration reform is LGBT-inclusive publicized a letter sent earlier this month by 60 members of Congress to President Barack Obama and the congressional leadership “urg[ing] Congress to include the Uniting American Families Act in any comprehensive immigration reform legislation.”
The group – led by openly gay Democratic Reps. Tammy Baldwin, Barney Frank and Jared Polis – wrote that current law, which does not allow citizens to sponsor a same-sex partner for immigration purposes, means that “tens of thousands of binational families are either already living separately, face imminent separation, or have left the U.S. entirely in order to remain together.”
The immigration reform legislation proposed in December by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) did not include the UAFA, leading to some heavy criticism from LGBT equality advocates and organizations.
Older LGBT Americans also got a boost despite the snowfall, with the Department of Health and Human Services announcing on Feb. 10 that it is awarding a $900,000 grant over three years to Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE).
The purpose, according to the HHS, statement about the award, is “to establish the nation’s first national resource center to assist communities across the country in their efforts to provide services and supports for older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals.”
One concern that was raised by the snowstorm slowdown was how the 30-day congressional review period for D.C. marriage equality bill would be impacted. The answer, luckily for those same-sex couples hoping to tie the knot in D.C. soon, is not much at all.
Because of the complex way in which the 30 days are counted, the snowstorm itself actually did not add any time to the 30-day period. During the snowstorm, the House was in session on Feb. 9 and the Senate was in session on Feb. 8, 9 and 11 – a Thursday. The fact that both chambers were out of session on Wednesday didn’t stop the clock from moving forward. This is so because only a recess or adjournment of four or more days – such as the congressional recess taking place this week – stalls the 30-day review period.
However, because the Senate recessed on Thursday night, neither house was in session on the Friday before the Presidents’ Day recess began. Thus, Feb. 12 will not count in the review period, and the 30th day – assuming the expected return of Congress on Feb. 22 – moves from March 1 to March 2.
If those dates hold, the first effective date of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009 would be March 3.