Tag Archives: state department
‘No end in sight’ to Republicans’ Clinton investigation
Republicans signaled they’re not done with election-year investigations of Hillary Clinton and whether she lied to Congress, even after a House committee signed off on its report into the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
The 800-page report by the GOP-led Benghazi Committee found no wrongdoing by the former secretary of state, but the two-year inquiry had revealed that she used a private email server for government business, triggering a yearlong FBI investigation that continues to shadow the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
FBI Director James Comey said this week there weren’t grounds to prosecute Clinton but that she and her aides had been “extremely careless” in their handling of classified information.
The committee’s 7-4 vote Friday was split along party lines, reflecting partisanship that emerged even before the panel’s creation in May 2014 and only escalated since then. Democrats have submitted their own report on the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks that killed four Americans, including U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens.
The vote is unlikely to be the final word in the inquiry that has lasted more than two years and cost $7 million. The panel’s chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said lawmakers may seek a federal investigation into whether Clinton lied to the committee in testimony last year.
“If a witness said something to a committee of Congress and/or under oath that’s not consistent with the truth, our committee has an obligation” to report that to the FBI, Gowdy told reporters.
Asked if he was referring to Clinton, Gowdy said, “She’s one of 100 witnesses.”
Under oath, Clinton testified last October that she never sent or received emails marked as classified when she served as secretary of state. She also has said she only used one mobile device for emails and turned over all of her work-related emails to the State Department. Comey said she had multiple devices and that investigators found thousands of work-related emails that had not been turned over.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he would refer Clinton’s Oct. 22 testimony to the FBI to investigate whether she lied to Congress.
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the senior Democrat on both the Benghazi and Oversight panels, said an FBI referral was “unwarranted,” since Comey said only three emails out of more than 30,000 sent or received by Clinton contained classified markings.
The State Department said the markings on the emails were placed in error and “were no longer necessary or appropriate.”
Cummings and other Democrats criticized the decision by Republicans on the Benghazi panel to conduct an interview next week with a senior Pentagon official who criticized the GOP-led panel for making costly and unnecessary requests. The interview, coming after the report, is unnecessary and excessive, Democrats said.
“There is no end in sight for this partisan Benghazi Committee,” Cummings said. “The Republicans are addicted to Benghazi.”
Separately, the State Department is reopening its internal investigation of possible mishandling of classified information by Clinton and top aides. The internal review was suspended in April to avoid interfering with the FBI inquiry.
Pressed by Chaffetz on whether Clinton lied, Comey said during a hearing that he had not reviewed Clinton’s testimony because it had not been referred to him by Congress. Chaffetz assured Comey he would soon get a referral.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi dismissed the latest GOP move as purely political.
“So let’s get this straight: This is going to be an investigation of the decision that is an investigation of the emails that was part of the investigation of Benghazi,” she told reporters. “So we had an investigation of the investigation of the investigation. How long can this go on?”
Comey said his team found no evidence that Clinton lied under oath to the FBI or broke the law by discussing classified information in an unclassified setting.
Under an onslaught of Republican criticism, Comey vigorously defended the government’s decision and rejected GOP accusations that the presidential candidate was given special treatment. To criminally charge Clinton based on the facts his agency’s yearlong probe had found would have been unwarranted and mere “celebrity-hunting,” Comey said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republicans have asked Comey to release all unclassified findings of the FBI’s yearlong investigation. Ryan also has asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to bar Clinton from receiving classified briefings for the rest of the campaign.
A group of Republicans senators has introduced legislation to strip Clinton of her security clearance.
Walter Palmer wanted by U.S. and Zimbabwe officials for slaughter of Cecil the lion
Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service want to talk to Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who became a target of worldwide outrage after illegally killing Cecil, a beloved and protected lion, in Zimbabwe.
But since issuing an apology to his patients on Tuesday for having to cancel their appointments, he seems to have disappeared, the Washington Post reports.
According to the newspaper, investigators have come up empty handed after visiting Palmer’s house, stopping by his dental office in Bloomington, a Minneapolis suburb, calling his telephone numbers and filling his inbox with e-mails.
But unlike Cecile, whom Palmer and two local guides lured out of the safety of a national park by tying a dead animal to their vehicle, Palmer can’t be lured out of hiding.
“I’m sure he knows” the government is looking for him, Ed Grace, chief of law enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told WaPo. “We’ve made repeated attempts to try and get in contact with him.”
Grace said that Palmer has had plenty of time since to contact U.S. authorities and that he should know how to reach the agency, “because we convicted him for lying about a bear kill” in Wisconsin in 2009.
Laury Parramore of the Fish and Wildlife Service, declined to say what the agency might do once it has more information. But she said the agency was “deeply concerned.”
In terms of sport hunting abroad, the United States’ primary authority is over importation of the carcasses, which hunters refer to by the euphemism “trophies.” Foreign animals can be listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Palmer could have violated the U.S. Lacey Act, a law tied to a United Nations treaty for the protection of animals. The act governs the actions of Americans who violate the laws of foreign governments.
Grace said the State Department also is looking into the matter in Africa. And, in addition to conducting its own probe, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it is ready to assist Zimbabwe in its investigation.
Zimbabwe officials also seek to question Palmer. Zimbabwe Republic Police spokesperson Charity Charamba said Palmer will face charges of poaching.
The two Zimbabwean men who assisted Palmer in committing the atrocity, for which Palmer paid over $50,000, have already been arrested. The men are a local landowner, who permitted Palmer to lure the animal to his land, and a professional hunter. Neither man had a hunting permit, making the kill illegal.
The Associated Press reported the following things to know about U.S. regulations surrounding the case:
FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE’S ROLE
Parramore said the agency is “currently gathering facts about the issue and will assist Zimbabwe officials in whatever manner requested.”
The agency could potentially find a way to block importation of the animal’s body, or body parts, if Zimbabwean authorities approved it for export.
“It is up to all of us — not just the people of Africa — to ensure that healthy, wild populations of animals continue to roam the savanna for generations to come,” she said in a statement.
Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minnesota, said she believes the Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. attorney’s office should investigate whether any U.S. laws were violated related to conspiracy, bribery of foreign officials, and illegal hunting.
PROPOSED ENDANGERED SPECIES LISTING
The agency proposed last year to list the African lion as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, a move that could limit the importation of African lion carcasses into the United States from some countries. But that rule has not yet been made final.
Listing a foreign species under the act allows the United States to strengthen enforcement and monitoring of imports and international trade, the agency says. A listing can also prohibit certain commercial activity with regard to body parts.
The agency said when it proposed the listing last fall that 70 percent of the African lion population existed in only 10 major strongholds. Threats facing the lions include hunting, loss of habitat and loss of prey, officials said.
Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of The Humane Society of the United States, said that while much of the vitriol has been aimed at Palmer he hopes the incident adds to pressure on U.S. government officials to finalize the proposed rule.
“It does seem to be a potential breakout moment of public understanding of the ugly underside of the international trophy hunting business,” Pacelle said. “There is a much larger problem than Walter Palmer.”
ZIMBABWE’S ANIMAL MANAGEMENT
The agency’s proposal would allow permits for the importation of sport-hunted lion trophies only if the lions come from countries with a “scientifically sound management plan for African lions.”
Long before Cecil’s killing, Zimbabwe was heavily criticized for failing to properly manage its wildlife populations. The Fish and Wildlife Service last year announced an indefinite suspension on the import of sport-hunted trophies from elephants hunted in Zimbabwe.
The agency cited shortcomings in Zimbabwe’s plans for overseeing its elephant herds and said it was “unable to find that the killing of an elephant whose trophy is intended for import would enhance the survival of the species.”
Legal sport hunting, when properly regulated, is considered to be a sound element of wildlife management. Revenues from hunting can be funneled into conservation programs and finance incentives for local communities to guard protected species. But, in reality, only a tiny fraction of the revenues actually winds up in the coffers of such programs.
Read also about Walter Palmer’s history of sexual harassment.
Despite pushback, Obama promotes gay rights in hostile regions of the world
President Barack Obama’s administration has taken the U.S. gay rights revolution global, using American embassies across the world as outposts in a struggle that still hasn’t been won at home.
Sometimes U.S. advice and encouragement is condemned as unacceptable meddling. And sometimes it can seem to backfire, increasing the pressure on those it is meant to help.
With gay Pride parades taking place in many cities across the world this weekend, the U.S. role will be more visible than ever. Diplomats will take part in parades and some embassies will fly the rainbow flag along with the Stars and Stripes.
The United States sent five openly gay ambassadors abroad last year, with a sixth nominee, to Vietnam, now awaiting Senate confirmation. American diplomats are working to support gay rights in countries such as Poland, where prejudice remains deep, and to oppose violence and other abuse in countries like Nigeria and Russia, where gays face life-threatening risks.
“It is incredible. I am amazed by what the U.S. is doing to help us,” said Mariusz Kurc, the editor of a Polish gay advocacy magazine, Replika, which has received some U.S. funding and other help. “We are used to struggling and not finding any support.”
Former President George W. Bush supported AIDS prevention efforts globally, but it was the Obama administration that launched the push to make lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights an international issue. The watershed moment came in December 2011, when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to the United Nations in Geneva and proclaimed LGBT rights “one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time.”
Since then, embassies have been opening their doors to gay rights activists, hosting events and supporting local advocacy work. The State Department has since spent $12 million on the efforts in over 50 countries through the Global Equality Fund, an initiative launched to fund the new work.
Just weeks after the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act last June, consular posts also began issuing immigrant visas to the same-sex spouses of gay Americans.
One beneficiary was Jake Lees, a 27-year-old Englishman who had been forced to spend long periods apart from his American partner, Austin Armacost, since they met six years ago. In May Lees was issued a fiance visa at the U.S. Embassy in London. The couple married two weeks ago and are now starting a new life together in Franklin, Indiana, as they wait for Lees’ green card.
“I felt like the officers at the embassy treated us the way they would treat a heterosexual couple,” said Armacost, a 26-year-old fitness and nutrition instructor. “It’s a mind-boggling change after gay couples were treated like legal strangers for the first three centuries of our country’s history.”
Some conservative American groups are outraged by the policy. Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, calls it “a slap in the face to the majority of Americans,” given that American voters have rejected same-sex marriage in a number of state referendums.
“This is taking a flawed view of what it means to be a human being _ male and female _ and trying to impose that on countries throughout the world,” Brown said. “The administration would like people to believe that this is simply ‘live and let live.’ No, this is coercion in its worst possible form.”
The American efforts are tailored to local conditions, said Scott Busby, the deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the State Department. Ambassadors can decide individually whether to hoist the rainbow flag, as embassies in Tel Aviv, London and Prague have done, or show support in other ways.
While some gay rights activists say support from the U.S. and other Western countries adds moral legitimacy to their cause, it can also cause a backlash.
Rauda Morcos, a prominent Palestinian lesbian activist, said local communities, particularly in the Middle East, have to find their own ways of asserting themselves. She criticized the U.S. and Western efforts in general to help gay communities elsewhere as patronizing.
While some gay rights activists say support from the U.S. and other Western countries adds moral legitimacy to their cause, it can also cause a backlash.
Rauda Morcos, a prominent Palestinian lesbian activist, said local communities, particularly in the Middle East, have to find their own ways of asserting themselves. She criticized the U.S. and Western efforts in general to help gay communities elsewhere as patronizing.
“It is a colonial approach,” she said. “In cases where it was tried, it didn’t help local communities and maybe made things even worse.”
An extreme case has been Uganda, which in February passed a law making gay sex punishable by a life sentence. In enacting the bill, President Yoweri Museveni said he wanted to deter the West from “promoting” gay rights in Africa, a continent where homosexuals face severe discrimination and even attacks. In response, the U.S. imposed sanctions and Secretary of State John Kerry compared the policies to the anti-Semitic laws in Nazi Germany and apartheid in South Africa.
In Russia, President Vladimir Putin has waged an assault on what he considers the encroachment of decadent Western values and the government last year banned “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors,” making it a crime to hold gay rights rallies or to openly discuss homosexuality in content accessible to children. Afraid for their security, some Russian gay advocates try to keep their contacts with Western officials quiet.
The official U.S. delegation to the recent Winter Olympics in Russia included three openly gay athletes. Soon after that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow opened its basketball court for the Open Games, an LGBT sporting event which had been denied access to many of the venues it had counted on. The U.S. Embassy also operates a website where Russian gay and lesbians can publish their personal stories.
Jessica Stern, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, praised the U.S. policy but said there have been missteps along the way, citing a 2011 U.S. embassy gathering in Pakistan that prompted a group of religious and political leaders to accuse the U.S. of “cultural terrorism.”
And in Senegal a year ago, President Macky Sall bluntly rebuked the visiting Obama for urging African leaders to end discrimination against gays. Sall said his country was neither homophobic nor ready to legalize homosexuality, and in an apparent jab at the U.S., he noted Senegal abolished capital punishment years ago.
“The response in the local press was voluminous praise of the Senegalese president, maybe not actually for his stance on LGBT rights, but for effectively asserting Senegal’s sovereignty, yet the two became intertwined,” Stern said.
Busby, the State Department official, denied that increased harassment by governments is ever the consequence of U.S. advocacy, instead describing it as “a cynical reaction taken by leaders to advance their own political standing.”
In some countries, like Poland, the U.S. efforts are a catalyst for change.
The embassy there financed a 2012 visit to Warsaw by Dennis and Judy Shepard, the parents of Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming college student who was tortured and murdered in 1998.
A group of parents who heard their story were so shaken by the Shepards’ tragedy that they founded a parental advocacy group, Akceptacja, which is fighting homophobia. The parents are now reaching out to their lawmakers personally, in what advocates say is the conscious adoption of an American strategy of families of gays and lesbians appealing to the hearts of officials.
“The killing of Matthew Shepard represents the fear I have that my son could be hurt for being gay,” said Tamara Uliasz, 60, one of the group’s founders. “I realized that what happened in Wyoming could happen here.”
Secretary of State John Kerry celebrates LGBT Pride. Transcript
Secretary of State John Kerry led the State Department in a celebration of LGBT Pride on June 19 in Washington, D.C.
The following is a transcript of Kerry’s remarks and the question-and-answer session that followed.
SECRETARY KERRY: Robyn, thank you very, very much. Thank you to all of you. Welcome to this celebration of pride here at State, and I’m very, very honored to have a chance to be able to talk with everybody. And thank you especially for putting up with my tardiness, which is not my fault. Blame Iraq and – (laughter) – a few other places. But I’m really delighted to be here. Robyn’s leadership is terrific, and Robyn works very, very closely with all of us on the 7th floor. I could list any number of her accomplishments during her tenure, but let me just share two very quickly.
Her advocacy and partnership with OPM and with Under Secretary Kennedy – where is he? Somewhere here. Right in front of me. (Laughter.) Well, Pat, thank you very much. That advocacy made an enormous difference, and through it, she helped to lift the exclusionary ban that prevented insurance companies from providing coverage for medical needs to gender transition. And she’s also made it her mission to ensure that our employees overseas can be accompanied by their families, and I think very few people have cared more, done more, or fought more to make that happen. So Robyn, thank you for your leadership. I really appreciate it. (Applause.)
I have to add something else. Robyn is the first transgender Foreign Service officer to come out on the job, and believe me it wasn’t easy. I think everybody here knows that. When she was posted in Bucharest, she faced a lot of prejudice, she had to deal with completely inappropriate judgments that people were making, questions about her abilities, but she didn’t just persevere. In the end, she won the hearts of the ambassador, her career Foreign Service colleagues, Civil Service colleagues, and the local staff, and she actually made Embassy Bucharest a model of acceptance. She even authored the first State Department report on transgender issues, and she didn’t just get through a difficult period, she was determined to turn it into a precedent-setting event, and as a result she made it a lot easier for those – or at least a little easier for those who follow. And I can’t begin to tell you and I think everybody here knows what a difference that has made.
I also want to thank our guest of honor, Masha Gessen, for her own special perseverance and advocacy. When all the repressive anti-LGBT laws in Russia threatened literally to break apart her family, she put up a fight. Fearlessly, she spoke out on Russia’s only independent television channel, and her Pink Triangle Campaign, which everybody became familiar with, unleashed a wave of grassroots activism. And the government in Moscow may look at Masha as a troublemaker to contend with, but here in the United States, we know that she is a wonderful person – a mother, a journalist, an extraordinary human rights defender – and we are honored by her presence here. Thank you for being here. (Applause.)
Now I know that all of us right now are more than aware of – we can palpably feel the wave of new, growing – the trend if you will, in some places for anti-LGBT laws that are metastasizing in various places. And for some it’s, obviously, easy to get alarmed by that. But let me just share this with you: I don’t think it’s time to get alarmed. I think it’s time to get active. Because your activism and your energy and your pushback – it won’t be the first time you’ve pushed back – can make all the difference in the world for a lot of people. And if anybody doesn’t believe that, just take a look at the recent history that we’ve all lived through here.
I came to the Senate in 1985. It was a time when AIDS was pilloried as a “gay disease.” And somehow that may have been deemed to give some people the permission to ignore it. I remember just a few years later, I testified before Strom Thurmond’s Armed Services Committee at an open hearing to speak out as a combat veteran about why gays ought to be allowed to serve openly in the military, and I ran into a world of misperceptions. Three years after that, I was the only United States Senator, as Robyn mentioned, to vote against DOMA.
Now – the only one who was running for re-election – there were 14 of us. Only 14 who voted against it. Today, that would never pass. That is an amazing journey. That’s a statement about how far we have come. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed. LGBT Americans who are willing to die for their country are today allowed to fight for their country. And we’ve gone from a Senate that passed DOMA over my objections to one that recently welcomed its first openly lesbian United States Senator.
We’ve gone from a Senate where AIDS was a forbidden topic, to one where we were able to finally get Jesse Helms to join us in unanimously passing the first anti–AIDS legislation. And subsequently now, PEPFAR is in its 11th year and we stand on the brink of an AIDS-free generation. And I am proud to be the first sitting Secretary of State to support same-sex marriage working for the first President of the United States to support same-sex marriage.
So all of us in this room are pretty well aware of the debt that we owe to those who came before us, and whether it is those who stood up after Stonewall or incredible, inspiring visionaries like Harvey Milk. And I’m proud to follow in the footsteps of an extraordinary advocate for the cause. When Hillary Clinton gave that speech in front of the Human Rights Council in Geneva and said five simple words, “Gay rights are human rights,” she transformed the debate. And standing here with Robyn, I want to build on that legacy, because LGBT rights are human rights, and human rights are LGBT rights.
The State Department, I’m proud to say, has always been at the forefront of equality in the federal government. And that’s why I was proud to announce during my visit to London last year that we were tearing down an unjust and unfair barrier that for far too long stood in the way of same-sex families traveling together to the United States. And I was personally honored to hand over the first visa within two months of the Supreme Court’s historic Windsor decision.
I am proud that we worked with GLIFAA and Pat Kennedy to press OPM to remove its exclusionary language from health insurance plans so that employees who have undergone a gender transition can get the health care that they need. And that’s what it means to fight and that’s what it means to win in a battle that we all know matters enormously, not as a matter of making these things a privilege, but to make sure that they are, in fact, a right.
So I am very proud of the progress that we are now making even in appointing LGBT ambassadors. I worked with the committee here at the State Department – with the D Committee, and I worked with the White House. And as a result, Ted Osius, sitting here, whom I’ve known a long time, and his family I know, will be the first openly LGBT officer nominated to serve as an ambassador in Asia. And on confirmation, he’s going to join five openly gay ambassadors who are now serving their country. I’m working hard to ensure that by the end of my tenure, we will have lesbian, bisexual, and transgender ambassadors in our ranks as well.
Now, I see the possibilities for the simple reason that we now have hundreds of LGBT individuals in our bureaus at State, USAID, and at posts all around the world. Foreign Service Officers like Lucia Piazza – where is Lucia? Somewhere – is she here? Not here right now. But she’s here in Washington. Kerri Hannan in Buenos Aires. Michelle Schohn and her wife, Mary Glantz, in Tallinn. And the wonderful thing about this is nobody looks at these folks when they’re out there and says, “Wow. That’s a great LGBT diplomat.” They look at them and say, “Those are great diplomats.” And that’s exactly how we make progress in this fight.
Now, we also know that none of this progress would have been possible without the courage and the creativity and innovation and effort of organizations like GLIFAA. And it’s an amazing journey. I have to tell you, I have very, very good friends in the LGBT/gay community throughout the country, particularly. One of them, David Mixner, who I knew for a long time – I met him way back when we were – you may know him as a strong advocate, but we met years ago in the anti-war movement – well before he came out. And I remember him lamenting to me on the telephone once, years ago, how difficult it was and how he was going to funeral after funeral after funeral during a period when nobody was paying attention to AIDS.
So I know this journey and know it through friends, and I think back then there were a lot of meetings of people in secret rooms. People knew that if they opened up about who they were in GLIFFA, it would be shut down, their careers would be destroyed. But even then there were people who stood up and fought, and people like AFSA, helpers like AFSA, and especially Sharon Papp – who has stood with our LGBT brothers and sisters since the beginning and who is standing with us today.
So we have come a long way at home, but everybody here knows there’s cloud hanging over this journey right now. We have a long, long way to go in the world. I won’t go into the details of a couple of conversations I’ve had with presidents of countries trying to move them on their current laws. From Uganda to Russia to Iran, LGBT communities face discriminatory laws and practices that attack dignity, undermine safety, and violate human rights. And we each have a responsibility to push back against a global trend of rising violence and discrimination against LGBT persons. Maybe all the success we’ve had here, we sort of felt, oh, gosh, it’s got to be happening everywhere else. But it hasn’t been. It’ll come. It’s going to take a while, and it’s going to take courage and patience, stamina in order to continue the fight. Because we need to make certain that we make it clear to people everywhere that there is a fundamental truth: Anti-LGBT violence anywhere is a threat to peace and stability and prosperity everywhere.
That’s why across the globe – Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas – our diplomats are supporting local LGBT organizations and human rights advocates. They’re one and the same. And through the Global Equality Fund, the State Department has provided critical emergency and long-term assistance to promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons in more than 25 countries. I’m proud that we’ve opened up the fund to corporate donations, and I want to urge our friends in the business community to step up their contributions to this cause. I was especially proud to speak at the first-ever ministerial on LGBT issues at the UN General Assembly last year, and I look forward to continuing to engage on this issue at the UN and other international fora.
So we are leading by example here. We are recognizing marriages for foreign diplomats who are assigned to the United States. Our Consular Affairs Bureau is implementing language on diplomatic passports to make sure we treat all spouses equally. Consular Affairs has also moved swiftly with other federal agencies to update our regulations after DOMA was struck down last year, and we’re now considering all visa applications made by same-sex spouses in the same manner as those made by opposite-sex spouses.
So let me be clear: We oppose any effort by any country to deny visas for spouses of American staff. It’s discriminatory, it’s unacceptable, it has no place in the 21st century. And I understand how challenging this issue is for all of you, which is why I’ve sent instructions to ambassadors at posts worldwide to engage at the highest levels on your behalf. Together we pay a price when these rights are trampled on, but together we win when these rights are protected.
One thing is clear: Making our shared vision a reality will require both the persistent protection of governments, as well as the active participation of citizens. I will never forget standing on the Capitol steps in October of 1998 when thousands gathered on a cool autumn evening, and we were there to remember Matthew Shepard two days after he’d been killed in Laramie, Wyoming. And as we gathered in the city of monuments, I posed a question: Is there a lesson that can become a monument to Matthew Shepard and to so many others who suffer because of the intolerance and prejudice of so few?
Matthew’s mother, Judy, later provided us an answer. As she struggled to make sense of a question that only God can answer, she said loving one another doesn’t mean that we have to compromise our beliefs. It simply means that we choose to be compassionate and respectful of others. In her life and in her work, Judy hasn’t just spoken words about compassion and respect. She has lived them. And I’m proud that she’s partnering with the State Department to speak out on these issues around the world. She is an example that reminds us we each have a responsibility to speak out loudly and clearly, and we each have to choose – and it is a choice – to be compassionate and respectful of others. And as Secretary of State, I am very proud of the choice that our country has been making these past years.
We’re here today to send a message: No matter where you are, no matter who you love, we stand with you. And that’s what pride means, and that’s what drives us today. The journey isn’t complete, the march isn’t over, the promise isn’t perfected. But we will march on together. Thank you all. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: Secretary Kerry, thank you for those words. I think I speak for many people in this room that I wanted to interrupt with applause a number of times. (Laughter.) If you can bear with us for just a few more minutes —
SECRETARY KERRY: So what the Hell’s the matter with you? (Laughter.) I’m joking. (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: — I’ve got two questions that were submitted to us by GLIFAA members from around the world, and I’d like to pose them to you. The first question – I’ll just read it out, and reading it, I’m realizing I think you answered much of it already. But let me read it to you, in any case:
“Mr. Secretary, we’ve seen so much progress here at home, but I have to tell you that for us in GLIFAA, in many ways we’re feeling even more squeezed. All of us want to succeed, but the list of countries where we can serve is growing shorter and shorter. Countries that used to quietly give visas to our family members or our friends are now being asked for visas for our spouses, and that term is causing a kneejerk reaction in many countries.”
This one member writes, “I personally counted all the jobs on my bid list, and I had to cross of 68 percent of them just because I’m gay and that country will not give a visa to my partner. We need your support, and we need the Department to do something more. So as much as we all want to succeed, this is a serious obstacle that is hurting us in our careers and hurting our families. How does the Department plan to address this?”
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thanks, Robyn. We are addressing it, I think you know. I think I spoke to that fairly – I made it pretty clear during the course of my comments. But look, we are instructing embassies to inform governments locally that this is our policy and that they need to honor our policy. It’s that simple. And a lot of governments will respond positively; obviously, some won’t. And where they don’t, if they don’t extend recognition and immunities, we’re going to instruct them that we’re also going to begin gathering information on the host government policies and practices on accreditation. And we will make this information that is relevant to assignments – make it easier for employees and all of you to sort of pick and choose and know what the lay of the land is.
But at some point in time, we may have to begin to make it clear to them that that can affect one program or another or the choices that we make. It’s not going to be a normal relationship. This is who we are, this what you have to respect, and that’s the way it is. And we’ll see how it goes as we collect this information and what the lay of the land is on that, but that 68 percent is daunting. And for – in one particular case, it doesn’t mean it’s across the board. But we’ve got to take a look at it, and we will push back. That’s the bottom line. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: Mr. Secretary, I know you’ve given great hope to our members with that statement. Our second question:
“Mr. Secretary, we hear so much about the difficulties faced by transgender persons around the globe. In so many countries, transgender persons are denied documents that reflect the gender in which they live their daily lives. And as a result, they are denied basic services, jobs, access to medicine, and too often they feel forced into sex work because they see no other choice. What is the Department doing to support the human rights of transgender persons?”
SECRETARY KERRY: Well again, this part of what I said. It’s really related to the first question also in many ways. It’s part and parcel of the same response in places. We have instructed our posts to report on and perform outreach to transgender communities in countries. In addition, we have instructed our human rights and health officers to raise transgender issues in their host countries, and we have encouraged our public affairs officers to include the needs of transgender groups in their programming, so that we are showing that this is something that we’re going to engage in. And we’re supporting civil society organizations that increase the protection of transgender persons who face the potential of acute violence.
So we’re taking steps specifically with respect to communities and with respect to the treatment of our folks. Again, it’s going to be clear and it is clear they need to make sure that they’re not discriminated against, and that our people expect – we expect, our nation expects that all of our people will be afforded the full measure of human rights that we afford them here in our country. And as time goes on now, we’ll accrue more and more information. We’ll have a better sense of who’s doing what, where the real trouble spots are and why. And we’ll be able to begin to build a policy of response to that over a period of time as we get a better sense, and hopefully isolate those people for those policies – hopefully, first, actually, break through and get them to simply change without – just as a matter of a reasonable conversation and an understanding.
But if it’s more entrenched and more broadly pervasive and damaging to our functioning in the way that we function, then we’re going to have to consider what the options are with respect to actions that we’ll take. And that’s something that will evolve over the course of the next year or two, and we’ll see where we are. But we’re not going to sit around and permit what we have fought for so hard to be undone. And as I said earlier, LGBT rights are human rights and human rights are LGBT rights, so we will protect them, period. (Applause.)
I was just given my instructions. I was being told I have to go. (Laughter.) I’m sorry. Thank you all, and happy Pride Day. Thanks. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: Secretary Kerry, thank you.
News Guide: What Benghazi means in US politics
To congressional Republicans, “Benghazi” is shorthand for incompetence and cover-up. Democrats hear it as the hollow sound of pointless investigations.
It is, in fact, a Mediterranean port city in Libya that was the site of an attack on an American diplomatic compound on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. That’s nearly all that U.S. politicians can agree on about Benghazi.
It’s been a political rallying cry since just weeks before President Barack Obama’s re-election in November 2012. With the launch of a new House investigation, Benghazi is shaping up as a byword of this fall’s midterm election and the presidential race in 2016, especially if former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is on the ballot.
A guide to the controversy:
SETTING THE SCENE
The 2011 revolt that deposed and killed Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, with the help of NATO warships and planes, began in Benghazi. A year later, the city of 1 million remained chaotic, in the grip of heavily armed militias and Islamist militants, some with links to al-Qaida.
The temporary U.S. diplomatic mission, created to build ties and encourage stability and democracy, was struck by homemade bombs twice in the spring of 2012. British diplomats, the Red Cross and other Westerners were targeted that spring and summer.
Stevens, based in the capital city of Tripoli, chose to visit Benghazi on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when U.S. embassies around the world were on alert for terrorism.
In Egypt that day, a different sort of trouble struck, trouble that would spread to other Mideast cities over several days: Protesters angry about an anti-Muslim video made in America stormed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, clambering over the walls and setting flags on fire.
Hours later, the assault in Benghazi began.
A FIERY ASSAULT AND FOUR DEATHS
The Benghazi attack came in three waves, spread over eight hours at two locations.
According to accounts from congressional investigators and the State Department’s Accountability Review Board:
Around 9:40 p.m., a few attackers scaled the wall of the diplomatic post and opened the front gate, allowing dozens of armed men in. Local Libyan security guards fled. A U.S. security officer shepherded Stevens and Sean Smith, a State Department communications specialist, into a fortified “safe room” in the main building.
Attackers set the building and its furniture afire with diesel fuel. Stevens and Smith were overcome by blinding, choking smoke that prevented security officers from reaching them. Libyan civilians found Stevens in the wreckage hours later and took him to a hospital, where he, like Smith, died of smoke inhalation.
Stevens was the first U.S. ambassador to be killed in the line of duty in more than 30 years.
A security team from the CIA annex about a mile away arrived to help about 25 minutes into the attack, armed only with rifles and handguns. The U.S. personnel fled with Smith’s body back to the annex in armored vehicles.
Hours after the first attack ended, the annex was twice targeted by early morning mortar fire. The second round killed Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, two CIA security contractors who were defending the annex from the rooftop.
A team of six security officials summoned from Tripoli and a Libyan military unit helped evacuate the remaining U.S. personnel on the site to the airport and out of Benghazi.
THE FALLOUT BACK HOME
Word hit Washington in the final weeks of the presidential race. Over the next several days, the Benghazi news blended with images of angry anti-American demonstrations and flag-burnings spreading across the Middle East over the offensive video.
Political reaction to the Benghazi attack quickly formed along partisan lines that hold fast to this day.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and others said Obama had emboldened Islamic extremists by being weak against terrorism. But the public still credited Obama with the successful strike against al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden a few months earlier in Pakistan.
The accusation that took hold was a Republican charge that the White House intentionally misled voters by portraying the Benghazi assault as one of the many protests over the video, instead of a calculated terrorist attack under his watch.
Obama accused the Republicans of politicizing a national tragedy. He insists that the narrative about the video protests was the best information available at the time.
After 13 public hearings, the release of 25,000 pages of documents and 50 separate briefings over the past year and a half, the arguments are the same.
WHO IS TO BLAME FOR LEAVING THE DIPLOMATIC POST SO VULNERABLE?
Republican and Democratic lawmakers agreed: The State Department under Clinton kept open the Benghazi mission, which employed a few State employees and more than two dozen CIA workers, with little protection in the midst of well-known dangers.
The attack probably could have been prevented if the department had heeded intelligence warnings about the deteriorating situation in eastern Libya, a bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence Committee said.
Britain closed its Benghazi mission in June 2012, after an attack on the British ambassador’s convoy injured two security guards.
Stevens’ requests for more security, made clear in cables to State Department headquarters that July and August, went unheeded, according to the Senate report, as did those made by his predecessor earlier that year.
But Stevens also twice declined the U.S. military’s offer of a special operations team to bolster security and otherwise help his staff.
The month after the fatal assault, Clinton declared that she had been responsible for the safety of those serving in Benghazi, without acknowledging any specific mistakes on her part. Obama said the blame ultimately rested on his shoulders as president.
The administration continued to distance both of them, however, saying neither Clinton nor Obama was aware of the requests for better protection because security decisions were handled at lower levels.
Four senior State Department officials were put on paid leave after the independent accountability board said that security at the Benghazi mission that night was “grossly inadequate.” After a review, the department reassigned three officials to positions of lesser responsibility; one resigned.
Some Republicans complained that no one was fired. Critics also questioned why the board didn’t interview Clinton during its investigation.
Democrats tried to shift some blame to GOP lawmakers, complaining that they had cut the administration’s budget request for diplomatic security in 2012.
WHY DIDN’T THE MILITARY COME TO THE RESCUE?
No military resources were in position to counter the surprise attack, the bipartisan Senate review found.
The military sent surveillance drones that relayed information to the security officers on the ground. It began moving Marines and special forces toward Libya, but the surviving American personnel were evacuated before they could arrive. Two Defense Department personnel arrived from Tripoli to help transport the Americans to the Benghazi airport.
The Senate panel rejected claims that the military had been ordered to “stand down” as the tragedy unfolded.
That persistent allegation has divided Republican lawmakers.
Some continue to pursue the theory that an order from on high blocked possible military action, such as rushing more personnel from Tripoli or scrambling fighter jets from Italy. Other Republicans, including members of the House Armed Services Committee, have accepted assurances from the Pentagon that nothing more could be done in time.
The bipartisan committee did fault the military, however, for failing to anticipate the possibility of such an emergency in Benghazi and not having a response plan ready.
DID OBAMA INTENTIONALLY MISLEAD AMERICANS?
Obama’s opponents are focused on the “talking points,” a memo prepared for lawmakers and for then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to help her get ready for appearances on the Sunday news shows to discuss the attack less than a week after it occurred.
That memo is offered as evidence of a possible White House cover-up. It offers something that’s golden to investigators _ a paper trail.
Last year, the administration reluctantly released 100 pages of emails documenting the administration’s editing of the talking points, first composed by the CIA. The final version omitted references to possible al-Qaida influences in the attack and retained the theory that it grew out of a street protest.
On television, Rice described the attack as a “horrific incident where some mob was hijacked, ultimately, by a handful of extremists.” Since then, numerous investigations have concluded there were no protesters outside the Benghazi compound before the armed assault.
Republicans argue that the administration already knew that. The White House says Rice was giving the best information available from intelligence agencies at that time.
Two months after her TV appearances, the controversy ended Rice’s chance to follow Clinton as secretary of state. Obama instead named her his national security adviser.
Just this April, another email showing the White House’s efforts at political damage control surfaced among documents released under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
Republicans charged that the administration had violated an earlier congressional subpoena by holding back that email by deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes. White House press secretary Jay Carney contended that the email, outlining how Rice should answer questions in her TV appearances, focused on the overall Mideast protests, not Benghazi.
The email says one of Rice’s goals is “to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy” and also includes the assertion that the Benghazi assault apparently grew out of a street demonstration.
“WHAT DIFFERENCE, AT THIS POINT, DOES IT MAKE?”
As the presumed front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, Clinton is the prime political target of the Benghazi probes.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chosen to lead a new House select committee on Benghazi, acknowledges that its work may continue into the presidential campaign season. Gowdy says he wants the investigation to be exhaustive and fair. The House Democrats’ leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, called the committee “a political stunt” but said Democrats would participate to bring balance.
If it achieves nothing else, the Benghazi investigation will cloud Clinton’s record and force her to watch every word. Critics already have latched onto her what-difference-does-it-make moment at a Senate hearing to portray her as indifferent to the truth.
Here’s what she said, under questioning from Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., about why the State Department didn’t quickly call the evacuees and ask whether there had been protesters outside the compound before repeating that story on the Sunday talk shows:
“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” Clinton said with evident exasperation. “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and prevent it from ever happening again, senator.”
In a chapter of her coming memoir obtained by Politico, Clinton writes that the meaning of her words has been twisted by those waging “a political slugfest.”
House Speaker John Boehner says Republicans aren’t playing politics. “The American people have not been told the truth about Benghazi,” he said, “and we’re committed to getting it.”
AN UNFINISHED STORY
No one has been arrested for the Benghazi attack.
The administration has named two militant groups that officials believe were among the attackers. One is led by a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, Sufian bin Qumu, who was released from the U.S. military prison in Cuba in 2007. He was described by officials there as “a probable member of al-Qaida.”
The suspected groups are considered ideological cousins of the terrorists behind the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. But State Department officials say they don’t think core al-Qaida leaders orchestrated the Benghazi attack.
The administration says it won’t give up on bringing the assailants to justice.
Since the Benghazi mission was burned, the rebel brigades that once fought Gadhafi’s forces have hardened into increasingly powerful militias, many made up of Islamic extremists. Libya’s central government is weak, security forces can’t maintain control, and bombings and shootings continue.
The State Department maintains the U.S Embassy in Tripoli but hasn’t returned to Benghazi.
Obama administration delays decision on Keystone XL
The U.S. Department of State notified eight federal agencies that it will provide more time for the submission of their views on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project.
Agencies, according to the State Department announcement, need additional time based on the uncertainty created by the on-going litigation in the Nebraska Supreme Court, which could ultimately affect the pipeline route in that state.
State said it would use the extended period to “review and appropriately consider the unprecedented number of new public comments, approximately 2.5 million, received during the public comment period that closed on March 7.”
The agency consultation process is not starting over.
The process is ongoing, and the State Department and other agencies are continuing to work in assessing the permit application.
The permit process will conclude “once factors that have a significant impact on determining the national interest of the proposed project have been evaluated and appropriately reflected in the decision documents,” according to the announcement.
A permit is needed for the pipeline because it would cross the U.S. border from Canada.
The announcement trigged a flood of comments, especially from the environmental community, which has been fighting the proposal through litigation, petitions and demonstrations.
Ross Hammond, senior campaigner for the climate and energy program at Friends of the Earth, said, “This decision shows the power of the movement against the Keystone XL pipeline by the people of Nebraska and activists all across the country.”
He continued, “Whether President Obama makes a decision on the pipeline next month or next year, Keystone XL clearly fails the president’s climate test. This delay shows that TransCanada will not succeed in bullying their way to approval, bypassing established democratic procedures. Further analysis will only confirm how risky this pipeline is to the health of the American economy, environment, people, and our climate.”
CREDO, a national progressive group working to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, also responded.
After expressing disappointment that the administration hasn’t rejected the permit application for the pipeline, Elijah Zarlin, CREDO’s senior campaign manager, said, “Still, this is yet another defeat for TransCanada, tar sands developers like the Koch Brothers, and oil-soaked politicians. No doubt, the nearly 100,000 people who have pledged to risk arrest to stop Keystone XL played a key role in pushing the administration to more accurately consider the full impact of this project — which must clearly result in rejection. No delays will diminish our commitment to stopping Keystone XL.”
And at 350.org, co-founder Bill McKibben also expressed disappointment that the administration continues to consider the issue instead of deny the permit: “It’s as if our leaders simply don’t understand that climate change is happening in real time — that it would require strong, fast action to do anything about it. While we’re at it, the State Department should also request that physics delay heat-trapping operations for a while, and that the El Nino scheduled for later this spring be pushed back to after the midterms. One point is clear: without a broad and brave movement, DC would have permitted this dumb pipeline in 2011. So on we go.”
What’s in the Keystone XL report from the State Department…
A report issued by the State Department on Friday raised no major environmental objections to the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada. The 1,179-mile pipeline would travel through Montana and South Dakota to a hub in Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries in Texas.
Some details about what’s in the 11-volume report, the fifth environmental review released on the project since 2010:
• Tar sands in Alberta, Canada, are likely to be developed regardless of U.S. action on the pipeline.
• Oil derived from the tar sands generates about 17 percent more greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming than traditional crude. But other methods of transporting the oil – including rail, trucks and barges – would be worse for climate change.
• An alternative that relies on shipping the oil by rail through the central U.S. to Gulf Coast refineries would generate 28 percent more greenhouse gases than a pipeline.
• The project would support about 3,900 construction jobs in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas and support up to 42,000 jobs in direct, indirect and induced jobs in the region.
• The pipeline would create about 50 jobs once it is operational.
• The project would contribute approximately $3.4 billion to the U.S. economy during construction.
• The pipeline would probably have an adverse effect on the American burying beetle, an endangered species found in South Dakota and Nebraska. Deaths or harm to individual beetles would be offset by a monitoring program and a performance bond from pipeline operator TransCanada that requires land disturbed by the project to be restored. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded last year that the pipeline is not likely to jeopardize the beetle’s continued existence.
• More than 99 percent of about 1.5 million comments received on the project were form letters submitted by advocacy groups, for and against the pipeline.
The Environmental Protection Agency and other departments will have 90 days to comment before the State Department makes a recommendation to President Barack Obama on whether the project is in the national interest. A final decision by the government is not expected before summer.
Christie vetoes transgender birth certificate bill
Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Jan. 13 vetoed a bill to allow transgender people to update the gender marker on their birth certificates to match their lived gender.
The bill passed by strong majorities in both the House and Senate. The governor’s veto means the existing law stands, which contains a requirement that transgender people undergo surgical procedures to obtain an accurate birth certificate.
Christie’s veto message said, “Birth certificates are often required to complete myriad security-related tasks. Accordingly, proposed measures that revise the standards for the issuance of amended birth certificates may result in significant legal uncertainties and create opportunities for fraud, deception, and abuse, and should therefore by closely scrutinized and sparingly approved.”
The statement also said “New Jersey already has an administrative process in place to streamline applications to amend birth certificates for gender purposes without court order.”
Responding, in a news release, Dru Levasseur of Lambda Legal’s Transgender Rights Project, said, “There is simply no justification for requiring transgender or intersex individuals to undergo unnecessary and often unavailable procedures in order to amend their birth certificates. New Jersey’s onerous surgery requirement is out-of-step with contemporary standards for transgender health care and imposes a hurdle that many cannot and should not have to meet simply to have identity documents that reflect who they are.”
A Lambda representative testified in favor of the legislation in December. Staff attorney Jael Humphrey told lawmakers that “birth certificates are the most basic proof of who we are.”
Humphrey continued, “Our identification documents are a gateway to employment, education and housing. They affect our ability to adopt or retain custody of our children, to secure a loan or to prove to our employers that we are authorized to work. When the gender marker differs from lived gender on identity documents, or the documents themselves are inconsistent, transgender and intersex people are robbed of their privacy and are more vulnerable to harassment, groundless accusations of fraud, discrimination and even violence.”
Other states and U.S. agencies have modernized policies regarding birth certificates and other documents, including the State Department and the Social Security Administration.
The New Jersey bill would have mandated a new birth record for people who have undergone “clinically appropriate treatment for the purpose of gender transition, based on contemporary medical standards.”
State Sen. Joseph Vitale sponsored the measure. The bill passed in the Senate in late December, 21-11. Assembly members approved the bill in June, 43-27.
Secretary Kerry: Equal treatment in visas for same-sex spouses
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Aug. 2 announced important visa changes for same-sex couples during a speech at the U.S. Embassy in London.
The changes come after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key provision in the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act that barred the federal government from recognizing legal same-sex marriages.
Speaking mostly to people who work at the embassy, Kerry said, “One of our most important exports by far is America’s belief in the equality of all people.”
The secretary then said that effective immediately, when a same-sex spouse applies for a visa, the State Department will consider it in the same manner it reviews an application from an opposite-sex spouse.
That means, said Kerry, “If you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen, your visa application will be treated equally. If you are the spouse of a non-citizen, your visa application will be treated equally. And if you are in a country that doesn’t recognize your same-sex marriage, then your visa application will still be treated equally at every single one of our 222 visa processing centers around the world.”
Kerry, who as a senator in 1996 was one of only 14 to vote against DOMA, also said that U.S. immigration will recognize same-sex marriages performed in other countries.
“Every married couple will be treated exactly the same,” he said, “and that is what we believe is appropriate. Starting next year, that will include same-sex couples from England and Wales, which just this year passed laws permitting same-sex marriage that will take effect in 2014.”
The following is a transcript of Kerry’s remarks:
Thank you. Well, thanks for gathering, I know on relatively short notice. I really appreciate it. One of the – first of all, it’s great to be in London, and thank you for all of you here. How many of you are embassy? You all raise your hands. How many are consular section? A few. Most of them I left behind in the consular section now, anyway. Well, thank you for joining us.
One of the most special things that we get to do – you guys, come on in. Let’s get everybody in here before we start, whoever’s standing in. I know we have one of the largest consular sections in the world here. I think Moscow may be slightly larger. But the work that you all do here is really important, because for many people, you’re the first faces that people get to see of America and the first impression they get. And hopefully, it can be a good one. Obviously, sometimes there are visa issues and it doesn’t always turn out the way people want it to be.
But we appreciate what you do, and the fact is that one of the greatest responsibilities of the U.S. State Department is to show people who America is, who we are as people, and what we value as Americans. And that’s what every single one of you do every single day here at Embassy London, and it’s what our colleagues do at posts all around the world. I just came from addressing a very large gathering in Islamabad, Pakistan, a difficult tour of duty, but equally important in terms of our efforts to promote democracy and promote the values of human rights and so forth.
So when I first came here in my first stop, my first foreign stop as secretary of state 27 countries ago, I said to everybody that you’re all ambassadors no matter what you’re doing here, and that is true. When you step out of the embassy and go down the street or wherever you live, wherever you are, you’re an ambassador of our country. And when you treat people with respect and you give them the best of yourselves, you show them the best of America, and that means showing them what we believe, what we stand for, and what we share with the world.
One of our most important exports by far is America’s belief in the equality of all people. Now, our history shows that we haven’t always gotten it right. As I mentioned yesterday in Islamabad, slavery was written into our Constitution before it was written out. And we are still struggling to make equal the rights between men and women and to break the glass ceiling and to make sure that all people are created equal. That is what we try to do, I think wearing our heart on our sleeve, and sometimes our warts, more than almost any other nation on the face of the planet. We believe in working to do better and to live up to these higher values, and we try to do it in a lot of different ways.
Today is one of those days. I’m very pleased to be able to announce that effective immediately, when same-sex spouses apply for a visa, the Department of State will consider that application in the same manner that it will consider the application of opposite-sex spouses. And here is exactly what this rule means: If you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen, your visa application will be treated equally. If you are the spouse of a non-citizen, your visa application will be treated equally. And if you are in a country that doesn’t recognize your same-sex marriage, then your visa application will still be treated equally at every single one of our 222 visa processing centers around the world.
Now, as long as a marriage has been performed in a jurisdiction that recognizes it so that it is legal, then that marriage is valid under U.S. immigration laws, and every married couple will be treated exactly the same, and that is what we believe is appropriate. Starting next year, that will include same-sex couples from England and Wales, which just this year passed laws permitting same-sex marriage that will take effect in 2014.
And as you know, more than two years ago, President Obama instructed our Department of Justice to stop enforcing DOMA. Then just a few weeks ago, the Supreme Court of the United States declared DOMA unconstitutional.
Today, the State Department, which has always been at the forefront of equality in the federal government, I’m proud to say, is tearing down an unjust and an unfair barrier that for too long stood in the way of same-sex families being able to travel as a family to the United States.
I am proud to say that I voted against DOMA, one of 14 votes against it and the only person running for election that year who voted against it, and it’s one of the better votes that I’ve cast. It was the right vote then, it’s the right vote today. And I’m pleased to make this announcement today because this is one of those moments where policy and values join together. And I think those of you in the consular division, more than me or more than any of us back at the State Department on a daily basis, are going to bet you’d be the people who get to make this a reality for people.
So those of you working today in the consular section will make history when you issue some of the first visas to same-sex couples, and you will be some of the first faces to welcome them to the United States in an always – a country that obviously is always trying to tweak and improve and do better by the values around which we were founded. You share in the great responsibility of making our country live its values, and you make possible the journey of those who want to visit our country for that reason and many more.
I might remark that I get to sit up on the seventh floor of the State Department looking out straight at the Lincoln Memorial. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the famous march on Washington and of Martin Luther King’s unbelievably eloquent and historic plea for equality. So that is where the dream was declared, the march goes on, this is several more steps in that march. I can’t thank you enough for your hard work, and as always, I am proud to call myself your colleague. Thank you very much. (Applause.)