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04/19/2007


Senate Panel Approves Measure Prohibiting Discrimination Against LGBT Jurors

Jeanne Shaheen
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Jury ACCESS Act as part of a larger financial services appropriations bill for fiscal year 2014, which handles funding for finance-related government entities such as the Treasury Department and the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission. According to the Washington Blade, the approval was narrow, with a 16-14 split. 

The Jury ACCESS Act was introduced by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and cosponsored by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Towleroad readers may recognize Shaheen as also being the chief sponsor of the Charlie Morgan Act, which seeks to secure benefits for gay troops and their partners. 

“Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity simply has no place in the United States. The judicial process should represent our nation’s principles of inclusion and acceptance, and eliminating the discriminatory exclusion of LGBT jurors is a necessary step to meeting that goal.”

At present, federal courts are prohibited from discrimination against jurors on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin and economic status. Shaheen's bill, which carries the full name The Jury Access for Capable Citizens & Equality in Service Selection Act, would add the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity to that list. 

For those wondering how a financial services appropriations bill can be allowed to make changes to laws regarding jury selection, the Blade explain that "the financial services subcommittee on the Appropriations Committee has jurisdiction over the judiciary."


Senate Committee Advances Benefits Bill For Gay Troops And Their Spouses

Gays_military-749694The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs advanced a new package of bills recently that would effectively ensure full benefits go to gay troops and their spouses. The package, collectively known as the Charlie Morgan Act, would change the existing definitions of spouse in U.S. code concerning benefits for troops. The portion in question is known as Title 38, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman independently of the mostly-defunct "Defense of Marriage Act". 

According to the Washington Blade, the bills carry the name of Charlie Morgan, a guardsman from New Hampshire who was a plaintiff against DOMA on behalf of herself and other gay troops. She did so while battling terminal breast cancer, and sought to secure benefits for her spouse before succumbing to the disease. Unfortunately, Morgan passed just months before the death of DOMA, but her name lives on with the newly-advanced bill. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), chief sponsor of the bill, told the press:

"Every individual who serves in uniform should have access to the benefits they’ve earned. Charlie served on the front lines for our country, but because of her sexual orientation her family has been wrongfully being denied many of the same benefits given to those who stood beside her."

Jeanne ShaheenThe Charlie Morgan Act also comes, in part, from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's promise to deliver full benefits to gay troops and their spouses after the Supreme Court gutted DOMA. Benefits in question include compensation for disability and the right to be buried in a military cemetery. With Title 38 in place, it is unclear as to whether such benefits can be extended to same-sex spouses. If passed, the Charlie Morgan Act would effectively put all doubts to rest. According to Shaheen, it is not so much a new piece of legislation so much as an extension of the decision handed down by the Supreme Court last month. 

“The Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA was a victory for the belief that all Americans are to be treated equally under the law, and I am pleased the Veteran’s Committee has built on the landmark progress we’ve seen for marriage equality. I hope the full Senate will move forward on the Charlie Morgan Act so that finally no spouse, child or family is denied benefits they have earned and deserve.”


Senator Jeanne Shaheen Honors Deceased Lesbian Guardsman Charlie Morgan in Emotional Floor Speech: VIDEO

Shaheen

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) honored Charlie Morgan, the lesbian guardsman and LGBT activist who died last week from breast cancer just one day before the Pentagon announced that it would extend limited partner benefits to gay troops and their families, something she had been fighting for for months. Unfortunately, since the benefits are not retroactive, Morgan's family will not receive them.

MorganSaid Shaheen, who got choked up during her speech: "I hope that Charlie Morgan knew how many lives she touched and how greatly we admired her efforts. I know that she will be sorely missed, and that her example will continue to guide us well into the future."

The Washington Blade reports:

Shaheen said she met Morgan in 2011 when she contacted the senator’s office upon her return from Kuwait. Morgan received notification that her spouse would be unable to attend a transition program known as National Guard Yellow Ribbon Reintegration. The senator said she worked with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to ensure Morgan’s family could participate...

...Concluding her speech, Shaheen announced that she would soon introduce a bill she called the Charlie Morgan Act, which she said would end a number of restrictions of benefits for legal spouses for service members, regardless of sexual orientation.

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

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