Democrats move now to protect same sex marriage and much more
A supporter of same sex marriage waves the marriage equality flag at the nation's Capitol. The Human Rights Campaign has expressed strong support of the decision by Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to make passage of a marriage equality bill the first major legislative push of the current session of the Senate. | Photo courtesy of the HRC

WASHINGTON—The number one bill lawmakers will consider this month, thanks to Senate Democrats newly energized after maintaining control of that body last week, will be a bill that protects same-sex marriage rights nationwide with a new federal law. The move by the Senate Democrats is designed to beat the right-wing dominated Supreme Court to the punch before its expected ruling that could come soon and overturning a prior Court ruling that made same-sex marriage the law of the land.

Protection of marriage equality is far from the only thing the Congress will push between now and Jan. 3 when the House, as expected, comes under the control of Republicans although only by the slimmest of margins.

They will take up critical bills to fund the government, a bill to add more than $9 billion to continue the fight against the coronavirus, a bill to raise the federal debt limit, a bill to prevent Congress from ever again accepting fake electors from the states, on time for the 2024 elections, and a host of pro-worker bills originating from unions including one that ends the spoils system in civil service hiring.

The spoils system ban is now a stand-alone bill, but they’re going to try to attach it to the next money bill to keep the government going.

Also pending: A bill, HR2193, to push the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to write a federal rule ordering farms and firms to protect their workers from illness and death due to excessive heat exposure.  With the push by Democrats to enact all of these bills before the Christmas holidays the current session promises to be the busiest “lame duck” session in history. Progressives like Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have been demanding that this be anything but a lame-duck session.

The idea is to get as much done for the people as possible before the Democrats relinquish the leadership of the House. The plan for next year is to use an increased Senate majority (They are determined to see Raphael Warnock re-elected in the Georgia runoff in December.) and a push to win over some senators from the Republican aisle and a few in the House to get other progressive measures passed. With the devastating GOP midterm performance and hardly a working majority in the House, some Republicans may be more susceptible to pressure to compromise. Some important bipartisan bills, including infrastructure funding, passed this year even without that added pressure.

The honor, between now and the end of the year, of being the number one legislative effort by Democrats will go to protecting the right to same-sex marriage. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., says. He plans to bring that up starting on Nov. 16, and write the right to same-sex marriage into federal law, trumping a potentially hostile Republican-named U.S. Supreme Court majority threat.

The important funding measure Congress must pass would keep the government open beyond Dec. 16. That date is when a current temporary money bill, called a continuing resolution, expires. Backers of the ban on the spoils system want to attach it to that new money bill.

The money bill has its controversies: Democratic President Joe Biden wants to use it to send more military aid to Ukraine and to spend another $9 billion to continue the fight against the coronavirus, for example.

A coalition of unions and civic groups, led by the Government Employees (AFGE), teamed up with Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to craft the outright ban on restoring the “spoils system” into the federal civil service. Kaine wants to insert it into the must-pass continuing resolution.

And HR2193 would push the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to write a federal rule ordering farms and firms to protect their workers from illness and death due to excessive heat exposure.

HR2193, the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act, is now on the House calendar for consideration, but the date is uncertain, as it is for many other bills there. Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., wants OSHA to order employers to protect their workers, indoors (such as in warehouses) and outdoors (such as in farm work and in construction) against the dangers of excessive heat. While in the California legislature, she pushed through a virtually identical law, giving that order to CalOSHA.

The top cause of the UFW

Chu’s bill is a top cause of the United Farm Workers. “We’ve made a lot of progress on this in the western states, especially California and Oregon, but it would be great to have a national rule,” says California Labor Federation Communications Director Elizabeth Strater.

There’s been no action since an executive order by Democratic President Joe Biden, issued in late 2021. Chu’s bill is named for Asunción Valdivia, a young farmworker who collapsed and died after working for 10 hours straight in 105-degree temperatures in California fields.

“Workers who labor in hot conditions, risking illness or death from heat stress, should receive required water, shade, and rest periods,” Chu said. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control calculates 702 people die every year from excessive heat and 9,235 are hospitalized.

“Agricultural workers, both domestic and H-2A, are essential workers. They ensure that all our families have food on our tables, and they deserve effective workplace protections,” Farmworker Justice, a pro-worker advocacy group, tweeted on Oct. 6.

The anti-spoils system bill would put an end to a scheme former Republican Oval Office occupant Donald Trump tried to impose on federal workers in the waning days of his reign in January 2021.

Trump established a “Schedule F” for higher-paid feds put into “policy-making, policy-determining or policy-advocating” positions at management’s whim, with no definition of who made policy. Unions estimated thousands of career workers would suddenly be in danger of firing at political whim, with no protections and no appeals. When he took over, Biden canceled Schedule F. Kaine, Feinstein and other groups want to ban such shenanigans permanently.

“Our nation relies on the work of a professional and nonpartisan civil service,” AFGE and the other unions wrote congressional leaders. “The merit-based civil service framework provides continuity of government through changing administrations, preserves institutional knowledge and expertise, and safeguards the rule of law and adherence to the Constitution.

“This framework is threatened by the exploitation of a statutory loophole” creating Schedule F, the unions warned. Besides AFGE, other unions joining to stop the Trumpite scheme for all time include the Laborers, both big teachers unions (AFT and NEA), the Teamsters, Fire Fighters, Professional and Technical Engineers, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the Treasury Employees, the National Employment Law Project and the National Federation of Federal Employees, a Machinists sector.

The scheme the unions, Biden, and Feinstein would forestall is part of what Government Employees President Everett Kelley expects will be “increased pressure by some lawmakers to cut already uncompetitive federal pay, downsize already critically understaffed government agencies, sell off essential government programs to corporate profiteers, and put more burden on the backs of working people by degrading government services.”

Schumer’s statement of the #1 position for protecting gay marriage elated the Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation’s leading LGBTQ groups. The bipartisan legislation, if it winds up on President Biden’s desk, could forestall a threat by that five-Justice Republican-named U.S. Supreme Court majority to outlaw same-sex marriage.

The senior right-wing Justice, Clarence Thomas, suggested reconsidering constitutional rights for LGBTQ people, gay marriage, and even contraception when that same group of justices in late June erased the constitutional right to abortion.

The Respect For Marriage Act “will officially strike the indefensible Defense of Marriage Act from our nation’s laws and help secure nationwide marriage equality,” said Human Rights Campaign Interim President Joni Madison. “The Senate has the opportunity to right a historic wrong, creating an inclusive law that reflects the will of the vast majority of Americans–71%.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.