Two sets of tears

Congress this week passed the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that will extend federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages, capping off an overwhelming shift by an institution that banned gay marriage just 26 years earlier.

The legislation drew complicated feelings from members of the LGBTQ community.

It is a victory for the LGBTQ-rights movement, but one deemed necessary from fear that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn the 2015 decision that guaranteed a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. It comes when people in some states can still be fired or denied housing for being LGBTQ. And it comes as anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has been on the rise, to the point where a shooter opened fire at a Colorado Springs LGBTQ nightclub last month, killing five people and injuring 25 more.

It was an emotional moment for many in Congress, and it drew tears from two lawmakers from Missouri — for very different reasons.

In a speech on the House floor Thursday, U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler broke down as she called on her fellow members of Congress to vote against the bill.

Hartzler, a Harrisonville Republican, was the face of the effort to amend the Missouri constitution to prevent gay marriage and has spent the past two decades opposing LGBTQ rights.

When she was elected to Congress, Hartzler criticized then President Barack Obama for not defending a legal effort to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. She was a strong opponent of the military’s decision to end its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that prevented members of the LGBTQ community from serving openly in the military.

Having lost the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Hartzler will leave office at the end of the year. This was one of the last votes she will take in Congress and it is one that cements how public opinion has shifted away from her view.

“This is yet another step toward the Democrats goal of dismantling the traditional family, silencing voices of faith and permanently undoing our country’s God woven foundation,” Hartzler said in her speech.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat and the pastor at St. James Church, is also a man of faith.

In the Capitol last week, Cleaver was asked about how support for LGBTQ rights has evolved over the past two decades.

He talked about his cousin Gary.

Gary died of complications from AIDS, alone and ostracized in his house in Los Angeles. Cleaver said before Gary died, the men in his church’s choir went to the pastor and demanded he be kicked out because they were afraid of catching HIV from him.

As he told the story, Cleaver’s eyes began to well up and some of his words caught in his throat. He took a break to regroup. When he came back, he said he believed a lot of people have stories like his, about gay friends or relatives who were shut out because of their sexuality.

“I think for a lot of people, they started realizing how stupid that was,” Cleaver said.

More from Missouri

Missouri’s ban on abortion, which doesn’t include exceptions for rape or incest, is one of the most severe in the country. Now, after Kansas voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have removed abortion rights from the state constitution, some Missourians are emboldened and want to launch a ballot measure of their own.

Here are headlines from across the state:

And across Kansas

Incoming Kansas House Speaker Dan Hawkins said he isn’t interested in changing a controversial state gambling fund intended to lure the Chiefs or another professional sports team to Kansas. While Gov. Laura Kelly and other lawmakers have said it’s worth looking into reopening the law to make changes, Hawkins said he has no interest.

The latest from Kansas City

In Kansas City …

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Odds and ends

O Christmas Tree

It’s that time of year again where politicians get in the holiday spirit the way they know best — by standing at podiums and making speeches. This time with festive objects in the background.

Missouri’s formal Christmas tree lighting took place last week, wher Gov. Mike Parson celebrated the illumination of a 40-foot Norway Spruce from Wildwood, Missouri. This week he proclaimed that December is Christmas Tree Month at the Missouri Christmas Tree Association’s annual meeting.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi lit the Christmas tree outside the U.S. Capitol on November 29th. It was a red spruce from Pigsah National Forest in North Carolina.

Kansas held its Christmas Tree lighting ceremony on December 7th. It is unclear what type of tree it was or where it came from.

A Blunt farewell

When retiring Republican Sen. Roy Blunt gave his farewell speech on Tuesday, he did so to a room filled with many of his Republican and Democratic colleagues.

Typically, when a senator gives a speech, they’re talking to the CSPAN camera and the senator who’s presiding over the chamber. It’s relatively uncommon to see a full chamber, even when they’re voting. Even though they have to vote in person, senators will walk up, cast their vote and then go back to their office.

When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed, for example, only the Democratic side of the chamber was full, with a few exceptions on the Republican side.

Former Sen. Jack Danforth said the fact that so many Democrats and Republicans showed up to listen to Blunt’s farewell speech is a sign of respect.

“The answer to the question of how good is the Senator, is what do the senators colleagues think of them,” Danforth said. “That’s it.”

Pension support

President Joe Biden on Thursday hailed the fact that $36 billion from the American Rescue Plan will go to the Central States Pension Fund, shoring up a system that handles retirement benefits for 27,800 Missourians and 5,700 Kansans.

The White House said the money, which went to a financially distressed fund, will prevent workers from facing a 60% cut to their pensions.

“That means some folks would stand to lose $10,000 each and every year of their retirement, that’s how much they’d lose, money they earned,” Biden said. “Instead, thanks to today’s announcement, tens of thousands of union retirees and workers in states like Ohio, Michigan, Texas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, can go to bed tonight knowing their pension they worked so damn hard for is going to be there when they need it.”

Happy Friday

Here’s an article about Christmas trees. I learned how to make vanilla meringues. Listen to this cover by Bob Dylan.

Enjoy your weekend.

Daniel Desrochers is the Star’s Washington, D.C. Correspondent
Daniel Desrochers is the Star’s Washington, D.C. Correspondent

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